From first generation college student to current Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Brandi Hephner LaBanc has gone far in the education realm.
“For me, I remember we had a bulletin board in our school, and they would highlight the folks that were going to college and where they were going, and there were never more than maybe fifteen to twenty names every year,” Hephner LaBanc said. “So in my mind, going to college was all about getting my name on the bulletin board outside the counselors office.”
She was a first generation college student whose parents thought college was expensive and were adamant she should pay for her educational endeavors.
“Having those conversations [about college] with my parents, their whole thing was, “If you are gonna go, it’s gonna cost us a lot of money, so basically go get a degree where you can get a job,” Hepner LaBanc said. “They wanted to make sure I was done in four years, and I had a job and I would make money to be able to pay for myself and handle it.”
Hephner LaBanc successfully graduated in four years from the University of Akron with an undergraduate degree in accounting. She began her career but never felt happy or fulfilled and decided to return to school for a graduate degree in student affairs.
“An advisor, a student affairs professional, sat down with me to talk through what I was doing and she was the one that said, ‘Why don’t you do [student affairs]? You were really involved in college’, Hephner LaBanc said. “That was just kind’ve how I found my way in college, was just to do things, meet people, get engaged. I’m an introvert by nature so that wasn’t even easy, but it was a survival tactic, as a first generation student.”
Today in her current role, Hephner LaBanc deals with many of the things she never participated in in college.
“It’s kind of incredible to go from literally not even knowing how to sign up for orientation to being in charge of that now,” she said.
As Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, she fulfills a variety of different roles and everyday is different.
“The one constant is that whatever I plan in the morning, will not happen because something is gonna dish the day, and that’s okay. That is part of the world of student affairs, responding to students’ needs, or crises that come up, and things like that,” Hephner LaBanc said.
Speaking engagements are a part of her job as a senior leader at a large institution, which can sometimes be difficult for someone who is an introvert.
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“I have no issue with talking, it’s just that I have to be much more prepared to talk or to go into certain circumstances, so I feel more confident about that. When I do speak, particularly when I have to give speeches, I know that I’m going to need some alone time then and be able to regroup.” Hephner LaBanc said.
Dave LaBanc, Hephner LaBanc’s husband, said her many talents make her so successful at what she does.
“She is one of the most professional people I know,” Dave LaBanc said. “One of the most competent, the most astoot. She’s highly intelligent, she’ll never take credit for it, but she is. She cares for people deeply. She is probably the hardest worker I know.”
Despite Hepher LaBanc being a woman in senior leadership, she’d like to continue to see women like herself fill those roles.
“I just feel like any team I’ve been on where there’s been more balance, whether it’s from gender, or other diversity, it’s just more effective,” she said. “There’s just a better perspective, and you think about problems and solutions in a more dynamic way. I see a lot of good in that, but I think there has to be more change socially and structurally for that to occur more equitably.”
Hephner LaBanc has worked for a variety of institutions, including the University of Mississippi, where she served prior to accepting her new job in the same role in Massachusetts in December. When LaBanc is not busy at work or in meetings, teaching classes, or engaging with students, she enjoys spending time with her doberman pinscher and traveling with her husband Dave.