Trent Palmer is the current director of student engagement for the Department of Student Life, overseeing the campus activities board and the intramural program. He graduated with a degree in physical education and health from AU in 2006 and has worked with student life for 12 years, first as a resident director in Smith Hall. In June, he will join the alumni office as director of young alumni engagement. He and his wife, Becca, have two kids, Mae and Bly.
What has kept you engaged and connected with the university for so long?
First and foremost, I just had a completely transformative student experience here. I came and wasn’t sure exactly what to expect out of being here, but through just so many different things that I got involved in, the residence halls, student clubs and organizations and class and everything. I was just like “Man this place has really done so much for my own development.” I was a physical education major—I had really enjoyed that program and student teaching, but I really felt like God was calling me to look into working at a school as it was time to graduate. I got so much out of my time as a student leader being an RA for a couple of years and then working in student activities with the intramural program as a student. This is where I really feel like God is calling me to still explore this professionally, so I applied to a bunch of places and was able to get a job here at my alma mater as a resident director. It’s a place that’s done so much for me, and I want to give back. I want students to have that same awesome experience that I did. If there are ways that I can help steward that, I want to do so, and I’ve always loved the mission and vision of this place.
I mean, even being here on campus now for 16 years, because it pretty much was a move right in from student to staff, I have never really felt like the pulse of the place has changed so much that it’s that different for me. You know, at this point, it’s home, and it’s where God has me and my family. I love students. That’s always stayed really true for me over the years—just really loving the college students that come through here. That’s what’s kept me here. But something that’s been hard in what I’ve done for 12 years is when I say goodbye to a group of students. In a lot of ways it is goodbye—not that I don’t care about them anymore, but I have to hunker down and get ready for the next group and really invest in them. With this new job, that is my job—actually re-connecting with all these people that have come through. That’s super exciting because that has always felt like kind of a gap that I haven’t been able to really dedicate time to, because that’s just not what’s been asked of me in my job. It’s hard to do that with so many that have come through.
That’s just a cool way that I think about my next chapter at AU that I think has a lot of staying power and that I think will excite me for a long time.
What have been some of your favorite responsibilities in your time at AU?
I truly have loved everything I’ve done. When I oversaw Mocha Joe’s it was hard because I so appreciated the engagement and identity that a lot of our students have who work there. They have really found their community, which I think is huge, and I didn’t realize that ahead of time. But overseeing it, I realized that it was a small business and that I needed to really pay attention to things that I didn’t have experience with. That was kind of stressful, essentially running a business and not having education leading up to doing that. That was an area that was a little challenging for me, but I still learned a lot.
I think it’s kind of cool when you don’t directly work in what you majored in. There might be that element of internally freaking out, and of course you have your parents saying “You went to be a PE teacher, and now you’re working at a school.” I know a lot of times that happens, that God calls us to do something else or something else interests us. But the fact that I’ve had a piece of the intramural program for all these years, having a deep love for sport and recreation, and having my educational background has been really awesome. I feel like I have natural strengths and desire to to be involved in that. That’s been really fun. The biggest thing is that I get to really rub shoulders with students—that has been the most rewarding. I’ve been blessed to have been able to have a job that I’m not just behind a computer or doing something else all the time. I’m passing and interacting with students daily. That’s been incredible.
This is a place that you’ve grown into, a part of who you are and who you’ve become. What has the whole experience been like for you?
It’s been great. I remember seeing some of the RDs that were here when I was here as a student out and about with their families and just thinking that was cool. So then actually being able to do that myself—we had our first born in Fair Commons, and we were there with her for a year. I feel like a college campus is one of the greatest places to to raise a family. I mean, there’s free entertainment everywhere, you can go to sports and musicals and events and they’re all great. You’re not having to travel for it or pay for a lot of that. And I’ve found that college students and college campus, at least at AU, love really well. I’ve got my kids in and around campus, and they’re just universally loved. Maybe it’s because we don’t see little people around much and they surprise us and we’re excited about that, but I just feel like it’s been a gift as I’ve raised kids on campus. They interact with so many different types of people with so many different perspectives, but they pretty much all have been warm and welcoming to them. We’ve decided to really invest. We don’t we don’t view this as just a job, but a ministry. We wanted to live close by and be accessible and be present. We’ve decided just to really hunker down and make this the community for us. It’s been really life-giving to live in that way.
What are you most hopeful for in your position as director of young alumni engagement, and what is one challenge you think you might face?
I think I’m most hopeful for discovering that most of our young alums are really wanting to be engaged. I’m so immersed in the current campus community where you’re kind of engaged whether you want to or not. But as I reach back out, you know, I just hope that there really will be a want and desire for people to hear from me what’s going on at the university and how they can still engage in things. I think the challenge would be talking to some that are like “Hey I’m done with that place, I spent my four years,” which I’m sure I’ll face occasionally, but I think that really targeting those that want to engage and finding ways or figuring out how to get those that aren’t as interested or still thinking about it to engage excites me—trying to discover their experiences that made this place special for them, even if they maybe don’t really think there was one right at the moment.
How do you feel leaving student life and campus activities after serving so long and on such short notice?
It’s bittersweet. I mean the hardest part, by far, is is having to look at all of the new hires that I made this February to work for CAB and IMs next year and tell them that I won’t I won’t be their boss. When they went through that process of applying and getting hired, you know, I think that expectation was that I’d be their supervisor. When all that was happening, that was my plan, too. All those decisions were made prior to spring break, and that’s when the job ended up posting. That transition was interesting in its timing—not getting to see an Olivia Dudley serve a third year in CAB as her as her boss, or the new crop of IM staff, a new clubs coordinator, these people that I hired and I was excited to work with. Maybe some, hopefully most, reciprocated those feelings.
I’m thankful that I am still on campus, like it’s not a “Goodbye, you’ll never see me again” type of thing, but it won’t be the same. The unknown of who will be doing that for them, I can see that being a little stressful—the heightened the level of curiosity of who’s gonna be the boss. I obviously want the best for all these things. They’re great things, and I’ve loved being able to oversee them. I see the impact they can make on the student experience, and I really still want that to be a positive thing for campus culture here at AU.