Who’s office on campus would you see both an ALANA fashion conference bag and a foam green “Lakers are No. 1” finger? Or both a cheerleading spirit stick and a “unity through diversity” banner?
Well, in Mike Paestella’s office, the director of student involvement at The Point.
If you’re in an organization, chances are you’ve run into him. As Director of Student Involvement, Paestella serves as the primary liaison between the 165 student organizations and the college.
“Organizations have needs,” says Paestella. “I may not be the person with an answer but I’ll help the faculty, staff and students get that answer.”
Besides helping student organizations meet their needs, Paestella also serves as administrator for The Point, figures out workspaces for student organizations and moderates registration. While it might seem overwhelming to some, he can only rave about his experience.
“What I love about my job is that I never know what’s going to happen,” he says. “It’s cool because it’s always changing; one day I’ll be giving advice to student officers to serving on the chancellor’s committee nominating great people.”
Although this is Paestella’s fifth year serving as director of student involvement, he’s been a member of the SUNY Oswego community since 2001. He was originally hired as Assistant Director of Campus Life for the now retired Student Organization Services that ran in Hewitt Union.
“My first day I was handed the keys to my old office, which hadn’t been used in a year, and I was told to ‘make it happen,’” he says. “While that might have scared some people, I thought it was great, I was excited.”
Some of the changes Paestella made happen included establishing the three different types of student organizations, creating the annual involvement fair, creating a separate Greek council to address fraternities and sororities, making a website and expanding the risk management program.
“When I started, it was more of ‘Here’s our hazing system, don’t mess up, see you next semester’” Paestella says. “I thought, how can this be more interactive, how can we encourage students to think about what is hazing and liability and what can that do to our organization?”
Paestella presented his revised risk management program at a SUNY conference, where it affected other universities the same way it affects the organizations on SUNY Oswego’s campus.
“Originally, they just had me put it on because they were short on programming,” he says. “But after I told [one of the stories], it was dead silent. I felt like I had really made an impact not only to students over the years, but also to a room of professionals.”
That impact now allows Paestella to travel to different SUNY schools across the state, showing students how to reduce the risks involved in having a student organization.
“I’m not telling them not to have a social life, I don’t think the D.A.R.E. program is really appropriate for ages 18-22,” he says. “But I want them to have a real conversation of what could happen if having a good time goes wrong and know if they take the risk, what’s the penalty.”
Another major change Paestella helped ‘make happen’ resulted in The Point, a “collaborative learning center” that helps “create campus life outside the classroom setting,” according to its website. Paestella played a major role in how The Point was constructed and operated.
“At first it was supposed to resemble a rat maze of cubicles, but I insisted it needed an open space,” he says. “Everyone should have the opportunity to know who else is here. We’re not the library, we’re not the lounge; we’re a place of comfort and expression but also a place where work needs to be done.”
The greatest change since the move from Hewitt Union? The amount of student interaction Paestella sees – and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It allowed me to work with so many students rather than meet to fill out paperwork and never see them again,” he says. “It’s normal for students to pop in and say hi or ask if I have a minute.”
The Point and Paestella’s change of title also allowed him another opportunity – to teach.
“I’m so grateful for that, I didn’t think that would happen,” he says. “It’s neat because it lets me work with freshman and involve them.”
Paestella teaches leadership courses, some aimed at freshman and some for upper classmen. He will occasionally assign students to check out a student organization on campus then write down how they are affected. The results tend to be shocking, but rewarding.
“If they like it, great, then that’s something they’ll become involved in,” he says. “But sometimes they don’t like it and they take the initiative to fix it. I’ll see a student I had as a freshman later become an officer and use the leadership skills to make those changes.”
So, what does a man who contributes so much to students do for fun in his free time?
“What’s free time?!” he says, laughing. “I’m sorry; I forget what that is sometimes.”
Paestella enjoys the outdoors in a variety of different ways, from the more mainstream activities of hunting and hiking to some more obscure ones like snowshoeing. But his favorite way to spend his time is obvious; it is with his five-year-old son, Michael.
“It’s a wonderful thing to be a dad, you learn so much from such a little person,” Paestella says fondly. Behind him rests a picture of his son in a frame on his desk.
“I thought being a dad would be about teaching everything the right way, but sometimes I have to stop and think about everything he has taught me,” he says.
Paestella stresses the most rewarding experience about being the Director of Student Involvement is also about learning, but learning from the students he interacts with.
“The students help teach me about everything,” he says. “What our students have accomplished blows me away. They’re taking organizations to the next level with community service and leadership skills.”
Paestella takes most pride in watching his students succeed after their college careers come to an end.
“To say this is where they first got involved…they’re going to take those skills out to their future communities and make their own changes. You can’t put a price tag on working with a student and seeing their success.”