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AVP Spotlight: Meet Dr. Suzy Harrington from the University of Houston!

Health, Safety, and Well-being Supporting the Profession Wellness and Health Promotion AVP or "Number Two" Senior Level
February 22, 2022
The AVP Spotlight series is an initiative of the NASPA AVP Steering Committee and is designed to highlight many of the outstanding contributions to the profession that are made by AVPs across the country.
This edition features Dr. Suzy Harrington DPN, RN, MCHES, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs-Health and Well-Being, at the University of Houston.
S. Harrington Photo

Dr. Harrington, please share with us your title, institution, years of service in your current role, and years of service as a student affairs professional.
I’m Suzy Harrington the AVP for Student Affairs-Health and Well-Being at the University of Houston. I have been here two and a half years, and have technically been in student affairs for only two and a half years, although I have been in higher education since 2013 as Chief Wellness Officer for Oklahoma State University and then as the Executive Director of Health and Well-Being at Georgia Tech.

Describe the units within your portfolio and if you have any specific duties in addition to providing supervision to those units.
The six UH Health and Well-Being departments include the Student Health Center to include Pharmacy and Psychiatry, Campus Recreation, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), UHWellness and the Cougar Cupboard, Cougars in Recovery and the Justin Dart Jr. Student Accessibility Center. I also lead our new interdisciplinary Health Promoting University task force, to determine a plan of action to be a Health Promoting University and adopt the vision and aspiration of the Okanagan Charter.

What do you enjoy doing most in your current role?
I enjoy the teams I work with and the diversity of the students and academic programs here. I enjoy the growth of our campus and of Student Affairs, especially as we shift from a traditional approach to a proactive upstream approach. I also enjoy representing the University of Houston in the opportunity to lead health and well-being at a national level.

How have you been involved in NASPA and do you currently serve NASPA?
I was involved with NASPA before I was in student affairs and am also involved in a variety of other higher education health and well-being leadership.

NASPA Leadership:

  • Highlighted in NASPA Leadership Exchange, Fall 2017, “A New Model for Campus Health” and other articles
  • Participated in planning for the inaugural Well-Being and Health Promotion Leadership tract for NASPA Strategies Conference; Director’s Pre-Conference Panel, 2018
  • Participated in the invitation only NIRSA/NASPA Thought Leadership Forum leading to the development of the revolutionary NASPA/NIRSA joint statement of “Health and Wellbeing in Higher Education: A Commitment to Student Success”, 2018
  • NASPA AVP Steering Committee Member, 2021-present
  • AVP Symposium planning committee member, 2021-present

Other higher education health and well-being leadership:

  • Participated in the development of the “Okanagan International Charter for Health Promoting Universities” 2015
  • Participated in the NYU 2015 “National Call to Action” to elevate care, health, and value of college health as a key pathway to advancing student learning and success
  • Highlighted in “The Art of Health Promotion” Well-Being Issue Jan Feb 2016 “America’s Healthiest Campus, The OSU Well-Being Strategy Model”
  • Participated in the NYU “Triple Aim Collaborative 20x30 Transform-a-thon”, 2018
  • Participated in planning committee for Director’s “Building a Culture of Health & Well-Being” Pre-Conference for NIRSA; Panelist, 2018
  • Inaugural executive board member for the US Health Promoting Campuses Network 2019-present
  • Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), University Summit planning member 2021-present
  • American College Health Association (ACHA) Health and Well-Being AVP-AVC Steering Committee Member; 2021 to present
  • American College Health Association (ACHA) Healthy Campus Leadership Team Member at Large (Culture), 2021 to present

What is the best advice you would give yourself as a new professional knowing what you know now?
Always do your best. Be patient with yourself and others. Be persistent in following your heart as you nurture yourself, your dreams, and others. Life rarely goes the way you planned, instead going the way life goes, so smile, regroup, and persevere.

What is something you are most proud of as an AVP?
We have been able to obtain necessary resources for our portfolio departments using data, despite COVID. In addition to successful local advocacy, I am proud to be involved with the national movement for health promoting universities in a variety of ways, and proud that we have a task force on our campus to explore this option. And, I must admit, I am proud of a comprehensive wellbeing framework that is now being adopted as the Harrington Well-Being Model by national colleagues to propel their health promoting university visions into action. The rotational model is being customized to the uniqueness of each campus to help conceptualize the why, who, what, how, and when of a comprehensive holistic health promoting university.

AVP roles are challenging! What do you do outside of work to ensure that you are fresh and energized for your campus job? What do you do for fun when you are not working?
This is a fun question – thanks for asking. I love to ride my gravel bike as often as I can. I connect with my friends and family as often as I can, both near and far, virtually and in person. And I am enjoying updating my 1938 bungalow, getting projects accomplished like converting half of my detached garage into a back patio, landscaping, and last week – watching the pouring of a brand new driveway.

How do you balance your personal life with your professional responsibilities?
In addition to the connecting with friends and activities above, I began a meditation practice called Centering Prayer about 5 years ago and meditate every morning for 30 minutes. With the new year, I have added an additional 30 minutes to my morning routine for time to journal. I use both as a way to center and ground myself in kindness and patience, which seems to help – most of the time!

What are you reading now (or have read recently)?
In addition to fun historical fiction, I have been taking the time to read some newer books on health and well-being by some of my favorite authors:

  • Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World by Vivek Murthy
  • Well-Being at Work: How to Build Resilient and Thriving Teams – by the Gallup team
  • Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
  • Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen – by Dan Heath