New Dean of Students Justin Kitts ’07 offers advice on taking chances and experiencing college

A North Dakota native and member of a military family, Dean of Students Justin Kitts knows a thing or two about moving to new places—however, Kitts has always found himself returning to Lees-McRae.

Earning his degree in English literature in 2007 from Lees-McRae, Kitts said his first few days on campus “instantly felt like home” even though he had lived all around the country up until then.

Studying English went on to serve Kitts well as he pursued his graduate degree at Appalachian State University in their college student development program. Kitts says this is when he realized he wanted to work in higher education.

Fast forward a couple years later, Kitts finds himself on campus again as the new dean of students, ready to bring continued engagement in the role and help students optimize their time on campus.

Get to know Kitts more in our most recent staff Q&A: (responses have been edited for clarity and brevity).

You’re a graduate of Lees-McRae. Why did you want to return to your alma mater and continue your career here?

I have actually worked at Lees-McRae twice before. My first full-time job was as the housing director, director of Greek life, and assistant director of summer conferencing. During that time, I started my graduate program at Appalachian State University and decided I needed to diversify my experience. I returned after completing my program of study and served as the director of campus life and recreation. I wanted to continue my journey in higher education and gain new experiences and went to Union College in Kentucky where I served as the director of campus life, director of housing and residence life, interim dean, and finally dean of students. When the opportunity presented itself with a chance for me to return home to Lees-McRae, I did not hesitate to apply!

What are some of your favorite Lees-McRae memories, both as a student and later as an employee?

I have several fond memories of my time at Lees-McRae as a student. I was involved in everything the campus had to offer: student ambassador, orientation leader, Student Government Association, Greek life, Order of the Tower, etc. Event-wise, I always loved Mountain Day. Being able to give back to the community and become a servant leader had a lasting effect on who I am as a person still to this day.  

Later on, both as my former roles as resident director and director of campus life and recreation, I always enjoyed working directly with the student body. I love everything about leadership development and getting groups to work together. So every orientation program I worked with I made sure to train my orientation leaders on how to build effective community quickly with students. I still enjoy being able to jump in the middle of a group and learn their names and get them to come together as a community.

Why did you want to become the dean of students?

To be completely honest, when I started my journey in higher education my ideal position was a dean of students role. I wanted to ensure that students were getting a solid experience based on student-development theory. Working closely with an engaged student body and student affairs staff is extremely rewarding. 

What are some things you hope to bring to Lees-McRae and to your corner of campus?

The Student Affairs Office is working collaboratively to meet our evolving student needs. Some new positions and staff members have been added to Student Affairs: director of conduct and citizenship, director of counseling, associate dean of students for residence life, dean of students, and director of campus life. The staff has been working together this summer on how to engage with our student leaders and bring new programmatic outreaches to campus. The department will also be working with athletics, academics, and on wellness initiatives now more than ever.

If you could speak directly to students right now as the new dean of students, what would you like to say?

Make the most of the time you are given. Your time in college represents an opportunity to try new things and experience life with a safety net. Take a chance and experience what Banner Elk and the mountains of North Carolina have to offer. Take courses outside of your major, study abroad, audit a course that sounds interesting. Sign up for a club and/or an organization. Support your fellow students by going to athletic, campus life, and residence life events as well as plays and any other programming.

What is a fun fact or something that people might not know about you?

I have always been a lover of film and cinema. When I was a kid I was in love with Star Wars. I had wanted to work in the film industry and just never followed that dream, but about two years ago I decided to build my first prop from Star Wars. I ended up getting some attention on Instagram and continued doing builds to increase my skill level and learn new methods. I joined the Replica Prop Forum and competed in a build competition and placed third against some of the better known names in the prop world. I have since branched out from Star Wars into making props from other films and pop culture things: Indiana Jones, Firefly, Blade Runner, and Fallout. I use this hobby as an excuse to learn 3-D design, woodworking, metalwork, etc. If you want to see what I have done you can check it out by searching #kittspropshop!

Justin Kitts Q&A
By Nina MastandreaAugust 01, 2019
Campus LifeFamilies