Celebrate Mary Alice Serafini on Her Retirement After More Than 30 Years of Service to the U of A

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Mary Alice Serafini and Pork Chop

Join members of the Division of Student Affairs in celebrating the retirement of Mary Alice Serafini, assistant vice chancellor for Student Affairs and executive director of the Pat Walker Health Center.

The drop-in event will be held from 3:30-5 p.m., Wednesday, March 30, at Unity House, 1002 W. Maple St. Please RSVP by March 27  here.

Serafini started at the U of A in 1991 as the assistant director of administration for the U of A Health Center. She has been at the U of A through four chancellors, several interim chancellors, as well as a few vice chancellors and one vice provost, for Student Affairs. What has been constant in Serafini’s career at the U of A is her commitment to the student experience, doing what she can to help students succeed and not only seeing the bigger picture of students’ health and well-being, but working hard to make it reality.

“Mary Alice is the consummate advocate for all members of the University of Arkansas community,” said Melissa Harwood-Rom, interim vice chancellor for Student Affairs and dean of students. “However, she reserves her highest energy level for students. She has always been the voice in the room asking ‘How will our decision here today impact students?’

“She has been recognized for her support and advocacy for international students and scholars, and she has been stalwart in her leadership in programs focused on diversity and inclusion,” Harwood-Rom said. “Many will associate Mary Alice with the two pivotal building projects that are the Pat Walker Health Center. I will always think of her heart that is bigger than the football stadium.” 

When Serafini started in 1991, the health center was in a smaller building just north of Maple on Razorback Road. That space has been expanded and renovated and is now houses the Eleanor Mann School of Nursing. The current health center is in an amazing space on Garland and Maple and is now known as the Pat Walker Health Center.

“We are so far forward from when I started in 1991. I love change, and we have pursued this through vision, partnerships and professional development. I truly believe in the holistic model of medical care, mental health care and wellness all tied to education,” Serafini said. “Watching and realizing that students are acquiring skills in holistic health as well as care is very heartening. To be a part of the educational process and to work with professionals at the Pat Walker Health Center, in Student Affairs and the campus at large is energizing.”

The health center was first established in 1875 by members of the Fayetteville community to isolate communicable disease. As control of communicable diseases became safer, the health center expanded from medical care to also include mental health care and wellness and health promotion. The Pat Walker Health Center first opened in 2004 and it was already known that a future expansion would be needed. On May 4, 2018, the PWHC celebrated the opening of that new, state-of-the-art, 20,000-square-foot addition.

“Mary Alice has been a consistent champion for mental health services and resources on our campus. Under her leadership the counseling center has grown substantially not just in the number of counseling staff, but also in the creation of a beautiful and welcoming space for our work within the Pat Walker Health Center,” said Josette Cline, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Pat Walker. 

There really is not enough space to write about all of Serafini’s contributions to the U of A, the student experience and the student affairs profession. She has touched the lives of so many over the years. 

“Mary Alice leaves a legacy within PWHC truly unmatched by any other. Her entire career has been service to others, and she is hands down the most compassionate leader I have ever worked with,” said A.J. Olsen, director of medical services, PWHC. “Countless individuals have received exactly what Mary Alice strives for — service to care for and better themselves. Services may be medical care, counseling assistance, wellness coaching, assistance for abuse (sexual, substance, physical) or education. She will be dearly missed yet never far given the footprints she leaves as a guide for others to aspire to.”

James Stewart was a U of A student and graduate assistant in the health center from 2005-2007. “Mary Alice is to this day one of the most impactful supervisors I have ever had the pleasure to work for and with. She role-modeled being the pinnacle of integrity, honesty and ethics,” Stewart said, who is now the director of academic continuity and engagement for the office of Veterans Affairs at DePaul University. “She also showed me how to be a professional in this field but still include one’s activism, sense of humor and full self in your work.”

Katie Austin was a graduate assistant under Serafini’s supervision from 2008-2010. “It was such an impactful experience for me. Even as an associate vice chancellor, Mary Alice made time to mentor me, ask about what I was hoping to get out of my time at the U of A and really ensure I was getting real practical experiences in my GA role,” said Austin, who is now the director of housing and residence life at Wichita State University. “She let me tag along to a wide variety of important meetings and events — anything I expressed interest in or she thought I could learn from. Mary Alice has always been student-focused, goal-driven and passionate about lifting others up. I wish her the best in retirement and know she has left a lasting impact on the University of Arkansas. The institution is better because of her!”

In addition to the PWHC, the University Career Development Center was also in Serafini’s portfolio of responsibility during her time at the university.

“Mary Alice Serafini was an amazing supervisor and mentor when I served as assistant vice chancellor of the University Career Development Center. Under her leadership of the University Career Center and the Pat Walker Health Center, the quality and number of services provided to students and the number of staff significantly increased,” said Angela Williams, teaching assistant professor, and former assistant vice chancellor of the Career Development Center. “These services have been and remain critical to our students’ success. She has an unwavering commitment to place U of A students’ needs first. She is one of the kindest individuals and just a delightful person. I have always been astounded by the respect, empathy, vision, mentorship and inspiration she provided to me and others.”     

Mary Alice received her Diplome from University of Besancon in 1968, her B.A. in modern languages from Knox College in 1969 and her M.A. in multicultural education from California State University in 1978. She spent many years as a Peace Corps volunteer and teacher in Sierra Leone and Niger. She has been heavily involved in NASPA, the student affairs professional association, and in helping inspire undergraduates to look at student affairs as a viable career path through the NUFP Mentor program. She has always been one to see the bigger picture in all things.

“When I think of Mary Alice, I think of her lifelong purpose of service, starting in the Peace Corps and creating the legacy that is Pat Walker Health Center,” said Huda Sharaf, chief medical officer at the center. “She has lived her life and career in trying to provide necessary services to communities especially championing underserved groups.”

“The University of Arkansas is not an island,” Serafini said. “We are part of a larger community, our city, our state, our nation, our world. Together, we can build an inclusive world that respects each individual in their own unique way.”

“Mary Alice has been a lighthouse on the U of A campus for the last 30 years,” said interim Chancellor Charles Robinson. “We have so benefited from her leadership, her kindness and her abiding concern for others, and I, for one, will miss her bright presence on campus. However, something tells me she isn’t nearly finished making a difference in our community.”

Serafini has never been one to be idle, and she has no plans to sit around during her retirement.

“The future will include finally getting to spend time with family and friends all over the United States. In Fayetteville, I will continue my interest in public policy and efforts to assure access to voting in all elections. I plan to discover new ways to volunteer and to always be a part of a thriving community,” Serafini said of her retirement. “My garden also needs a lot of attention.”

Student Affairs invites you to the drop-in event celebrating Serafini, which will be held from 3:30 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, March 30, at Unity House, 1002 W. Maple St. Remarks will be made around 4 p.m. Please RSVP by March 27.