Meet our New Interim Dean of Students

Hilary Bentman, Associate Director of Communications
Dean Sarah Swager sits at a desk and speaks with a student sitting across from her.

There’s a new face in Widener student affairs. 

In January, Sarah Swager joined the Chester campus as interim dean of students, bringing extensive experience to the role.

With more than 30 years in higher education administration, serving schools from Maine to Montana – and many points in between – Swager has spent much of that time focused on student affairs, student success and retention, and ensuring a positive campus experience.

We recently caught up with Swager to learn more about her, what drew her to Widener, and her goals for the campus.

You have extensive experience working in student affairs. What draws you to this work and to higher education in general?

I have always valued higher education and am drawn to this profession as a way to help students to achieve their higher educational goals, build long-term friendships, and to encourage lifelong learning. Much of my work is related to working directly with students and student groups to enhance their experiences and to identify and remove barriers to success. I find great joy in seeing students making strides toward their personal goals.

You’ve served at colleges and universities across the country. What attracted you to Widener?

Widener has a wonderfully supportive ethos, and I believe my personal work interests are in line with the goals of the institution. During my first few days here, my assumptions about the environment of support at Widener have been reinforced over and over again. This is clearly a place where students are provided with support systems, mentors, and educational opportunities that are all working together to assure that students achieve their goals. That environment is appealing to me and one in which I believe I can be helpful.

What are your goals in this new role? Where would you like to focus your efforts?

Among my goals here are assuring that students have the most positive academic and personal experiences possible, and that they are supported in remaining enrolled and completing their degrees expeditiously. Improvements in retention and graduation rates are top of mind, and I am aware of the value of student support programs and services in helping students to reach their goals. I will work to continuously build on the good work that has been achieved before my arrival and to identify additional opportunities for student success efforts and to help the institution to retain and graduate students in ever higher numbers. I am looking forward to working with the talented Widener staff and faculty to make improvements in retention, completion, and student engagement.

At Widener, we strive to provide a vibrant campus experience, where community members feel a genuine sense of belonging. How will you, in this role, help foster that environment?

As a long-term student affairs professional, I am committed to creating a sense of belonging as a critical function of my role. I am delighted to join a team of professionals who are committed to working directly with students – listening to their ideas, using their feedback to build programs and services, and assuring that student voices are evident everywhere on our campus. I believe that students who feel welcomed by our staff and who are engaged in the process of planning for and developing events, programs, and services inevitably feel a sense of belonging here. The more we can involve students in our work, the more those students see themselves as a part of our university family now, and into the future.

You have spent a career helping to promote student success and retention. What lessons learned from other roles and institutions do you hope to bring to Widener?

One of the lessons I have learned over my career is the importance of student engagement, not just in terms of its value for retention and graduation, but also for the long-term support that successful, valued students feel for their alma mater. Students who feel that they received a positive education, made long-lasting friendships, and left a personal mark on the institution can be some of the most effective supporters of the institution as they move through their careers and personal lives. Often those students with the most positive experiences become alumni who are enormously helpful in guiding new students to Widener for their own higher education experiences, serving as alumni volunteers in a variety of ways, and assuring Widener’s continued success in serving the next generations of students.

What are you most looking forward to in this role?

Getting to know students, faculty, and staff and beginning to envision my place in the organization is something I am eager to do. The community members I have met so far have made very positive impressions on me, and I am delighted to be joining such an engaged and positive team. I also value serving as a mentor for staff in Student Affairs and for students. One of the most positive professional experiences any of us can have is to have made a difference for students with whom we work. I am eager to interact with students, and to hopefully be able to help them navigate their college years and beyond successfully.

What do you do in your spare time?

In the small amount of spare time I have, I try to improve my knitting and quilting skills and I spend time with my dog, Ruby. I also enjoy spending time with friends and family whenever possible. 

Can you give us a fun fact about you?

I consider myself a native Montanan, although I was born in Texas -- my family moved to Montana when I was 6 weeks old. I recently moved back to Virginia (I had lived there for many years in the early 2000s) and I am thoroughly enjoying re-connecting with dear friends in the Mid-Atlantic.

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