KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Dr. Shea Kidd-Houze isn't your average dean, and the Southeastern Conference has taken notice.
"I am all over this campus. I'm rarely in this office," she said. I am downstairs in our Student Union. On Mondays you might find me giving out milkshakes."
As UT's Assistant Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students, Kidd-Houze spends her time with the people she loves the most.
"Absolutely the students. That's why we're here and if we ever forget that I think we've really messed up in higher education." she said.
Students who know Kidd-Houze are big fans, and she's doing her part to make sure all students feel at home.
"Something that I've focused on since I arrived was really this message around mattering and belonging and really creating and cultivating a campus where every student feels like they're part of this family," she said.
One way Kidd-Houze does this is through leading the campaign "Vol is a Verb," which embraces and celebrates diversity on campus.
She said it's important every student sees themselves in their leaders.
"When a student is moving about this campus and they don't see that visibly or in print or on the web then they start to begin to think, 'do I matter here? Do I belong here? Does this place understand me?'"
Her work is noticed by a lot of students, faculty, and now the SEC.
She and 13 other African-American leaders, one from each of the 14 SEC universities, were highlighted by the conference as people who embody the spirit and drive represented by Black History Month.
"I'm really just honored that they saw me maybe as a representation of all the good work that is happening because certainly I am not the only one," said Kidd-Houze.
She's glad the SEC is putting a focus on the contributions African-American leaders make to higher education.
Kidd-Houze hopes the work she and others are doing make UT a more inclusive campus.
"We're all Volunteers, we all love orange, yet these different stories really thread this amazing collective story," she said.