Runell named “Pillar of the Profession”

Marcella Runell, the vice president of student life and dean of students and lecturer in religion at ý College, has been recognized with a 2024 Pillar of the Profession award.

Marcella Runell, the vice president of student life and dean of students and lecturer in religion at ý College, has been recognized with a 2024 Pillar of the Profession award from the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA), the leading association for the advancement, health and sustainability of the student affairs profession.

Each year, NASPA recognizes individuals who have served as leaders, teachers and scholars in the field of higher education and student affairs. To earn the Pillar of the Profession award, honorees must demonstrate distinction in the higher education field, have served in leadership roles in NASPA either regionally or nationally, be recognized by colleagues and contribute significantly to the field of higher education. This award shines a light on leaders who have created a lasting impact on their institution, leaving a legacy of extraordinary service.

“I am deeply honored to be recognized by my peers and colleagues. This acknowledgment feels surreal. NASPA has been such a transformative space for me professionally and personally, ever since I was an undergraduate student leader,” Runell said. “Student affairs work is such purposeful and impactful work, and it has always been a calling for me and truly an honor to work with college students. The direction my career has taken, the opportunities I have had to lead and be led just wouldn’t have been possible without the support and care from beloved students, past and present, chosen family and family of origin, incredible friends and the very best colleagues. I am profoundly grateful.”

Runell currently serves on the upcoming international task force for the ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies for Student Affairs Educators along with peers from institutions such as New York University, the University of California and Syracuse University. Runell is also a member of NASPA’s James E. Scott Academy board and recently served on the Conference Leadership Committee for Boston 2023. Runell is an advisory board member to the Hip-Hop Education Center, EmbraceRace and the Center of Racial Justice and Youth Engaged Research at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Runell has been at ý College for 10 years and is the inaugural vice president for student life. In that role, she co-created award-winning programs such as MoZone and Be Well and with distinction co-led key initiatives such as the College’s COVID-19 response and the inaugural BOOM! conference. She also served as a co-chair for the community center with dining and played a role in the establishment of the Safety Net Fund and the First-Gen/Low-Income Network. Her contributions extended to cocurricular credentialing, revitalizing campus traditions and student communications and advocating for both varsity and club athletes while unwaveringly prioritizing community and belonging through the development of inclusive programs, policies and services for all students.

"I am very pleased for my colleague Marcella Runell. She is an outstanding educational leader who has forged creative pathways in higher education and student affairs,” said Mount Holyoke President Danielle R. Holley. “Marcella is deeply compassionate and deeply committed to fostering equity, inclusion and community on campus. I know this honor means so much to her. It is certainly richly deserved."

“Marcella ‘Gets It Done’ Runell is a champion in student life. The middle name didn’t come out of nowhere; she earned it,” said Mount Holyoke College Student Government Association President Maille Romulus ’24. “Marcella continues to show up for students at ý day in and day out. As SGA president, Marcella is my go-to person when it comes to getting things done and making changes on campus. All my ideas are taken seriously, no matter how unfeasible they may be. Nothing gets past her, and everything that impacts students is extremely important to her."

“Dr. Marcella Runell is an accomplished chief student affairs officer, educator, author and speaker. She is an exemplar of her profession,” said Robert A. Scott, President Emeritus of Adelphi University and of Ramapo College of New Jersey. “I met Marcella when she was an undergraduate student leader at Ramapo College of New Jersey and I was President. I followed her career with great interest because I admired her approach to life, both personal and professional. This recognition confirms my assessment.”

Prior to coming to Mount Holyoke, Marcella was the founding co-director for the New York University Global Center for Academic & Spiritual Life under the leadership of current , faculty in the Silver School of Social Work, founding program director for the minor in multifaith and spiritual leadership and associate director of the Center for Multicultural Education and Programs, where she co-founded Faith Zone, Intergroup Dialogue, the Hip-Hop Pedagogy Initiative and the Administrator Cultural Training Institute.

Trained in the interdisciplinary field of social justice education as both a practitioner and a scholar in the Social Justice Education program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Runell has authored books, articles and curricula on topics of work-life integration, popular culture, friendship, race, spirituality and critical pedagogy. Most recently, she co-authored the book UnCommon Bonds: Women Reflect on Race and Friendship with Dr. Kersha Smith and a chapter on “Parenting Mixed Race Children” in Biracial Families: Crossing Boundaries, Blending Cultures, and Challenging Racial Ideologies. Additionally, she has written for Routledge, Scholastic Books, the New York Times Learning Network, VIBE and academic journals and has contributed to various edited book projects, including both Teachings and Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (2023, 2024).

Runell was the recipient of the NYU 2013–2014 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Faculty Award and has received several teaching and programmatic awards, including the .

Runell is also a proud daughter, godparent, aunt, sister, friend and co-parent to Aaliyah (13) and Ava (9) and can often be found at soccer games and dance recitals, cheering for her two biggest inspirations.

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