A long and winding road and a latent interest in law led Marissa Bozak to a career in higher education as the Director of Student Conduct at Notre Dame College (NDC) in South Euclid, Ohio.
Marissa started her collegiate career at Baldwin-Wallace studying speech pathology. Her senior year, her clinicals began and that experience taught her she realized she really did not want to make a career in the field.
After graduating with her four year degree, she worked other jobs away from her career track to figure out what she wanted to do. While an undergrad she enjoyed being a part of planning campus events like Midnight Madness. She admitted that earlier in her college career despite working on campus events, she had not realized that people make a career of working on campus with students. There was so much more to student activities and running a campus than she previously thought. After graduation she thought she found her passion, working with student organizations and college students.
“I don’t think my parents thought it was courage at the time when I took a year off and thought about what I wanted to do,” said Marrisa, but it was one of the best moves she made.
She talked to her family about, “what I enjoyed doing versus what I ‘should be’ doing, even if I didn’t enjoy it; thinking about what I wanted to do moving forward,” instead of looking back at what made sense from her degree, she explained. She wanted to be sure about this new passion before committing to another career track.
Key to Marissa landing a position at Notre Dame College (NDC) was her return to Baldwin Wallace (BW) as a graduate student in their Leadership in Higher Education program. The program requires students have two year-long internships in different campus departments “that gave me more experience that was more broad than being on one singular trajectory.” Marissa worked in career services for one of her internships and she is sure it helped her a position doing academic advising at Notre Dame.
After two years working in enrollment at Notre Dame, combined with her background in career services, she was promoted to Associate Director of Admissions and Advising at the Finn Center on campus. Marissa’s first taste of Student Conduct was while she worked there.
“I sat on Student Conduct boards with fellow staff and faculty members and we participated in student hearings to determine responsibility and potential sanctions. Not only did I learn a great deal about Student Conduct,… but I was also able to meet different members of the Notre Dame community.” She did not realize at the time that Student Conduct would become a passion that brought her back to higher education at Notre Dame.
After the Finn Center, she took a position in non-profit community development at Lakewood Alive to manage large-scale events and to coordinate the necessary volunteers. Working with very different people, personalities, and ideas prepared her to work with a diverse student body in her current role at NDC.
“I was the Event and Volunteer Coordinator for LakewoodAlive, and I truly enjoyed that position, but I felt that coming back to Notre Dame College was my calling,” said Marissa.
While she first worked at NDC, “I worked with a lot of online students, so I wasn’t able to meet as many people, but her work [in student conduct] now gives her the opportunity to meet lots of different people.
She explained that in her current role, “I don’t assign the discipline or make the judgments, but I facilitate that happening. I get all the info. I am the investigator on all of the hearings, I meet with all the witnesses, alleged victim and alleged violator, schedule the board, and the board makes the decision.”
Between being on the board making decisions or directing the department, she finds it is more difficult to wear her current shoes. “I am the one who has to relay the decision to the student. The student thinks it comes from this office. Even though they are told that it does not during the meetings with the boards, they are not always listening and are usually nervous.”
Usually students might need to write reflection papers, learn decision-making skills, or develop some social-emotional skills as a result of Student Conduct sanctions. “The office gets a bad rap. The tour guide will say ‘you don’t want to go there.’ We just want to help the students. They just hear they are getting in trouble. We want them to learn from the behaviors they have already made.”
“I’ve always been interested in the overarching aspects of law.” Marissa loves seeing how people process, how their minds work, and listening to them talk through why things are. “It may not be the way I would process it.” Reading their reflection papers or seeing them graduate despite them having hiccups in school, inspires her. “To see they had a negative and turn it into a positive. Some of the best relationships I have with students are students who came through the Student Conduct process. I try to make it as friendly as possible but still with the importance of making good decisions.”
Besides her eventual career path, something else from BW stuck with her, community service with College Now of Greater Cleveland. College Now did a training for BW alumni and Marissa signed up to learn more about their mentoring program. Now she has more than 4 years of mentoring with the student she was initially assigned. Her mentee is a 5th year senior at University of Pittsburgh and is going to medical school next.
Because Marissa’s mentee is out of state, other than the occasional meet up for lunch, the two of them communicate mostly online or through texting.
Her mentee is the first person in her family to attend college, and she had questions about finances, books, room and board, and course selection. “She went through moments in her personal life that would be difficult for anyone at any age and she handled them with dignity and grace.”
“Working with my mentee, knowing she can do anything she wants to do, is so inspiring to me and something like being a friend is something I enjoy.
Marissa has such a strong passion for her student experience at her alma mater, she serves on the BW Alumni Council.She also helped seven of eight children and families complete their wishes with the Make-A-Wish Foundation as a wish granter. “After I completed graduate school, I had free time in the evenings and I always loved kids, so I went to the training and fell in love with it.” Five families have gone to Disney World for their wish. One wanted their van to be handicap-accessible and one wants a therapy dog. Wish granters like Marissa meet with families to plan what their wish will be and then later organize parties for the families to reveal the details of the granted wish. Marissa is currently working with the community to make the reveal party a “going away to Disney” party a little extra special since the family is leaving the next day for the trip.
When she is not volunteering or working, she likes to attend public events, especially if she can take them in with both her husband and their dog Ziggy at her side.