Students say goodbye to Sickbert

After 13 years at Hamline, Dean of Students Alan Sickbert looks back on past adventures and forward to new ones.

Wail Eltag and Rikka Bakken

Students protesting on the lawn and a Dean of the College who had zero time to talk to him were the first experiences Alan Sickbert had when he walked onto Hamline for an interview in 2004.

“I just thought the whole thing was a mess,” Sickbert said, “but [Garvin Davenport, the Dean of the College at that time] took a chance and asked me to come in as this role of Associate Dean.”

This June marks Sickbert’s last month as Dean of Students, and in many ways Hamline is not the same university he stepped onto 13 years ago.

“I felt like there was more colleague-ality between faculty and staff here when I started than any place I had ever been,” Sickbert said. “I really liked that feel, that I was invited to faculty meetings, that I had a role with that, that faculty and staff really knew each other.”

Prior to joining the Hamline community, Sickbert had been working at St. Thomas for 16 years as the Dean of Students. His final experiences there left him somewhat unsure if he wanted to return to the world of higher education. Sickbert said that the relationships with staff and faculty members, and the structures in place at the time that included more student committees were pivotal factors that kept him at Hamline.

“In the beginning…I was trying to decide if this was what I wanted to do again,” Sickbert said. “When you end some place not how you’d like it to end — I’m not very forgiving sometimes, so it was important to have an experience that was so positive and Hamline provided that.”

Sickbert was asked to leave St. Thomas when a new Provost was hired. Sickbert said he experienced what has become a normal occurrence in higher education: that when leadership positions are filled by new people, they replace staff members with individuals they already know.

“[The new Provost] started, one division after another, just cleaning house, and I was one of those people,” Sickbert said. “I was never told or understood why.”

The lack of an explanation was one thing that made him question whether or not he wanted to spend the rest of his career in an academic setting.

“The hard part was never having an answer when you had spent 16 years contributing to a place and suddenly one person decides, and nobody else helps you out,” Sickbert said. “Patti [Klein] and I experienced it together at St. Thomas at the same time.”

Klein, Associate Dean of Students and Title IX Director, began working at Hamline in 2004 as well.

“It was coincidental, but interesting that we both ended up here at the same time,” Sickbert said. “She came in January, and I came in June. I think that shared experience helped us work closely together and adjust and think about what we needed to do here.”

Klein’s longstanding working relationship with Sickbert makes his departure that much more notable.

“I’m going to miss his thoughtfulness and his ability to approach any issue with the students’ needs, thoughts, and best interests in mind,” said Klein in an email interview. “He really is the students’ dean.”

His first years at Hamline shaped the way he runs the Dean of Students office, doing what he can to continue making Hamline a positive place to work.

“Alan approaches difficult decisions by seeking input from everyone around him as much as possible, he really gives everyone a sense of involvement,” said Shelley Burton, Senior Administrative Assistant. “He also makes the office a fun and interesting place to work; it’s never a dull moment.”

Sickbert has been involved with many things at Hamline and in the Twin Cities community that keep him from having a dull moment to spend. This includes mentoring elementary students through Hamline’s Hand-in-Hand program, which gives faculty, students and staff the opportunity to mentor children at Hamline Elementary School on a weekly basis.

“Alan genuinely enjoys making a difference in the life of these kids,” said Steve Anderson, Director of Disability Services, when asked about the Hand-in-Hand mentor program.

In addition to being a mentor, Sickbert also works with Safe Hands Dog Rescue, the non-profit brewery Finnegans Beer and plays on a curling team with other Hamline faculty and staff.

“I do some work with the Safe Hands Rescue, and I’m really hoping to be an actual dog foster parent [in the future],” Sickbert said. “[I’m also thinking about continuing to work with] Finnegans Beer, where they give all their profits to food shelves.”

Sickbert hasn’t set any plans in stone yet though.

“With my daughter getting married this summer, I’m kind of waiting to just see what else rolls out,” Sickbert said. “The president has spoken to me about the potential of doing something here part-time… I don’t have any idea what she has in mind [yet].”

One of Sickbert’s other interests is history, and another possibility he’s thought of pursuing is part-time work for the national parks as a historical interpreter.

“I realize there are seasonal park ranger jobs,” Sickbert said, “and I’ve always thought that would be kind of interesting to go somewhere beautiful and be an interpreter.”

While at Hamline, Sickbert has taken the time to learn about the history of the university, relishing in stories of the Hutton years and of ghost stories surrounding Bridgeman Hall and Old Main tower. The story he loves most of all is the founding of Hamline.

“What I really think is meaningful for everyone is just the founding of what Hamline was,” Sickbert said.  “From the beginning… it was co-ed,” Sickbert said. “I think the whole idea that they [the founders of Hamline] were Methodists without religious tests, and the fact that they were co-ed and the fact of what they were trying to prove kind of is my favorite story. It’s just unique. Not everyone can put their roots to that type of thing.”

True to his title as the Dean of Students, Sickbert said that meeting and developing relationships with students is going to be one of the things he’ll miss most about his position at Hamline.

Sickbert is currently serving as adviser for Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK), a nationally recognized leadership honor society that recognizes juniors and seniors for their academic achievements. He also advises the Student Media Board, which is currently comprised of four media organizations on campus. He meets weekly with the leadership from ODK, the Student Media Board, The Oracle, and HUSC.

“I know how much I’ll miss those meetings,” Sickbert said. “That was my favorite part of the job. Every year I had no idea who [all those people] were going to be…every year it was a whole new year of developing relationships, and that was fun.”

Meeting with students has shown Sickbert at least one way he thinks Hamline hasn’t changed throughout his time here.

“I think our students still, in one way, are the same in that I have found pretty smart, brilliant students here doing remarkable things,” Sickbert said. “I sometimes think about Fathima in who is one of the officers in ODK and all the research she has done at Harvard… or Sarah Bliese doing this research in Africa, and just the number of things people have done kind of blows my mind.”

Throughout his time here, Sickbert has enjoyed watching students pursue and achieve their goals.

“I think Hamline is a place that when students really want to be involved, are motivated to be engaged and want to find experiences that matter for them, you can really do that here,” Sickbert said.

Following in his students’ footsteps, Sickbert now will be moving on to find new experiences that matter to him.

“It’s been enjoyable,” Sickbert said. “This has been a good place to be, and I’m grateful for that. But it’s time to see what else is on the docket.”