Apparently the University of Redlands has two gardens, a fact both I and the new Campus Experience Visitor Manager, Alesha Knox were not aware of. After settling the matter of which garden was the garden we had designated to meet, we began our interview.
New to the campus as of this year, Knox is already enthralled with Redlands and the community it sustains. As the new Campus Experience Visitor Manager she works to make those visiting or new to the campus feel like they belong. She had previously worked at an institution in Mississippi where she was born and raised. After one semester of graduate school at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she studied higher education, she began working part time for their office of admissions.
Her work in Mississippi soon became a full-time job, working as a staff member for New Student Retention Programs. In the admissions office, Knox primarily focused on new student orientation and the first year experience.
“My favorite part of that was getting to welcome students to a community,” Knox explained. She soon began working for Student Affairs where she worked on leadership and student involvement.
Redlands, California is a long way from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, so the question became how does one end up in such a different environment? The chief reason being that Knox’s wife was seeking employment at the university and fell in love with Redlands.
“We wanted to live in a blue state. I’ve lived in a red state my whole life,” Knox explained. But she said the city itself was not on her radar.
“I was like ‘I don’t even know where Redlands, California is,’ but a lot of people don’t so it’s fine. I understand when people ask ‘where is that?” Knox said. After visiting the campus and community, Knox fell in love as well.
Knox and her wife enjoyed working on the same campus when they were employed at the University of Southern Mississippi, so they sought tandem work here as well. While Knox works in the office of Admissions, her wife works in the School of Education.
“It is a close community, where the university is the city,” she explained. “Not only do you welcome students onto the campus, but you welcome them to Redlands.”
On top of the close-knit community that awaited the pair, she said “It’s really nice to be able to share a community with your family.”
The work that Knox does at Redlands is similar to the work she did in Mississippi, with the main goal in each being “helping people find their fit.” That is not the only perk, she said.
“My favorite part of my job would have to be working with the admissions hosts. Those are the students who give their time to give tours, and represent the university. Some of them also host overnights, so they stay with them, and go to lunch with them.” Knox continued, “They’re so excited and passionate about the university, so it’s really good to see students who are always excited about where they chose to attend, and they know the reasons why they attend.”
Before the school year even began, Knox spent the weeks leading up to the start of school with the hosts.
“[I was] able to follow the hosts around and learn about the campus and their tour route, and the information that they are given to tell. It’s really a crash course on that,” she said.
Now with the school year in full-swing, Knox said that she “aim[s] to continue to push us forward and bring positive change so that students who are looking for universities can see themselves here. I like to fix things, and not that anything is particularly broken, but things can always be improved, and that’s the way I live my life: to evaluate what we’re doing and move forward. So then we can show not only our communities and ourselves that we are great but others that we’re great.”
With this mentality, Knox is affecting positive change on campus beginning with school spirit.
“I’m starting a tradition at Redlands, so on Fridays everyone wears maroon and grey. The Willis Center has been doing it for the month of October, but we would like to spread this tradition across campus to promote school spirit,” she said.
Knox’s commitment to the university does not stop there, as she has attended a majority of the sporting events that have happened, and plans on attending the theater performance next month. The opportunities are endless for both staff and students alike, as Knox explained that she also acts as a mentor.
“My favorite part about this university is the opportunity. Not only opportunity for students, but for the community and the faculty and staff. I’ve gotten to do a lot more things than I would have done at the school that I was in. In a short amount of time, I’ve been here for two months, I have met so many different students from so many backgrounds,” Knox continued, “I get to work with faculty and coaches and students and learn about all of the things that we have to offer.”
“The thing that really sets us apart from other schools in California, especially state schools, is the ability to make someone feel like they belong. That yes, we are a small institution, but we do have a lot to offer, and people genuinely care about other people here,” She said. “If you want to be a part of something and give back, this is where you need to be.”
Knox said that the University, even in the office, pushes people to succeed. She explained, “People in the office are not afraid of change. Honestly that is what scared me the most. I come from a public, mid-sized institution, going to a small, private, liberal arts institution. There is just as much to offer here. People strive and want to grow.”
Knox said the dogs on campus was one of the biggest changes for her. With Thurber hanging out by the Willis Center, and Addie frequently making appearances on campus, the University is not lacking in canine companions. “People really like dogs here compared to Mississippi. It is a very dog friendly campus, which was probably the biggest adjustment that I had to make,” she said.
Being new was difficult, but with campus and community support, she fits right in. But Knox has also explored the areas near and around Redlands.
“I like to go on adventures, so I’ve been to LA a couple of times and done a couple things out there. There’s a food truck cinema that we’ve been going to, and that’s pretty cool because we don’t have food trucks in Mississippi,” she said.
Knox also enjoys biking, and traveling, explaining how she “Would like to take a road trip through Northern California, sooner rather than later.” Among the list of interests that California fulfills, Knox also explained, “I was a DJ is Hattiesburg, so I might, after a while, continue that.”
With the school year underway, Knox is given plenty to keep her busy as she adjusts as the new Campus Experience Visitor Manager, and to life in California.
photo courtesy of Taylor Matousek.