Sept. 12, 2016Vol. 47, Issue 1

Up for the Challenge

New director focuses on building alums

Abeer Mustafa stands on the stairs leading to Sutter Hall. The new director of University Housing began in June.

Abeer Mustafa is not afraid of making a big decision.

Soon after the new executive director of University Housing started in June, she decided to change the students’ residence hall move-in from multiple days to a single day. Could all that controlled chaos be confined to one 24-hour period? Spreading out the process over several days had been a long-standing practice, but Mustafa knew there were cost savings by shortening the process, plus new students would have fewer days in the residence halls with essentially nothing to do.

It took careful scheduling, weeks of planning, a huge turnout of staff and student volunteers, and perhaps some mild-for-August temperatures, but the August 18 move-in was a success.

“We had some early-morning congestion, but after that things went really smoothly,” Mustafa said. “The housing staff and all the volunteers did an incredible job helping students and parents find where they needed to go.”

It probably didn’t hurt in the logistics department that Mustafa was a veteran. She served in the Medic 536 Medical Battalion of the Army National Guard from 1990 to 1993, which included participation in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. Military service was not high on her parents’ minds when she was a teenager in Houston, Texas.

“Since the first days of high school, my parents would say, ‘Where are you going to college?’” Mustafa said.

But when she learned about the benefits of being in the Army, and the opportunity to be a front-line medic, she took the big step of signing up despite her parents’ expectations.

“After I told them, it was a difficult time at home, and my Dad spent a day on the phone, trying to undo my (Army) commitment,” Mustafa said. “But it was something I really wanted to do.”

New situations are old hat to Mustafa, having been born in Saudi Arabia before moving to Houston at age 6. Her mother is from Saudi Arabia and father from India. She speaks Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, and English, “and English was not my first, second, or third language,” she said.

That has not prevented her, however, from earning a BS from the University of Houston and an MBA from Sam Houston State University, as well as entering a PhD program at Indiana Wesleyan University.

After her military service, she worked as a leasing agent in Houston for AG Spanos Companies, learning the multifamily housing and commercial construction businesses. University housing seemed a natural lateral move, and she has thrived in a higher education environment, with increasingly responsible management positions at Rice University, University of Houston, Winston-Salem State University, and North Carolina State University. At North Carolina, she managed a $56 million budget that supported Greek life, conference services, and campus housing for more than 10,000 students.

When Mustafa was looking for a fresh challenge at another institution, several schools were options for her, but Chico State rose to the top of the list.

“This is a place that aligns with my core values, with what I personally believe in,” she said. “I fell in love with the staff here, the environment—the campus is breathtaking. I felt a fit.”

Along with the quick switch to a one-day move-in, Mustafa took other steps soon after she arrived, including removing loft beds from residence halls, painting University Village, and reviewing University Housing’s approach to disciplinary situations such as alcohol use. In every instance, the advice and support of her staff have played a major role, she said.

Abeer Mustafa chats with students.

Abeer Mustafa chats with students.

Not surprisingly, Mustafa has bold plans for the year ahead, including greatly expanding the faculty-in-residence program. Currently, faculty hold office hours in Whitney Hall, but none actually live in the residence halls. Mustafa is not only identifying rooms in Whitney and Sutter Halls and University Village where faculty will live, she is also reserving space where faculty can teach and do research. Mustafa is particularly enthusiastic about creating an entrepreneurial lab space, or makerspace, in the residence halls where faculty and students can collaborate.

“We had what we called an ‘operational garage’ at NC State,” she said. “Bringing that kind of creativity and research atmosphere to a residence hall environment is very exciting.”

Mustafa wants to set up a three-level program involving faculty: Faculty Scholars, who don’t wish to live in residence halls but will hold classes or lectures; Faculty Fellows, who are active in the program and next in line to live in the residence halls; and the Faculty in Residence.

“Interacting with faculty boosts the confidence of these new students,” Mustafa said. “They become more likely to ask questions in class, go to office hours, and be comfortable engaging with faculty.”

Befitting her experience in the military and corporate worlds, Mustafa says she is “mission-driven” to help students be successful and get the most out of residential life on campus.

“In everything we do, our focus is on building future alums,” ~Abeer Mustafa.

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