College Student Affairs Leadership Faculty

Lorraine Alston

B. Lorraine Alston

Associate Professor of Education

B.S., M.A., Hampton University, Ph.D., Bowling Green State University

Dr. Alston was the first full-time faculty hired for the CSAL program. She came to us in 1998 from Bowling Green State University, where she received her doctorate in Higher Education Administration. During her time at Bowling Green, Dr. Alston served as an adjunct instructor, research assistant, and academic advisor. She completed a doctoral internship in the Office of Multicultural Affairs at the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo. Prior to that, she was Associate Director in the Health Professions Preparation Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and served as Dean of Administrative Services at Mary Holmes College, West Point, MS. She was a Program Analyst Manager at Fayetteville State University, North Carolina and the Coordinator of Planning and Research at Hampton University, VA, where she received both her bachelor's and master's degrees. Dr. Alston currently serves as Associate Professor in the College of Education. Dr. Alston teaches the adult learner, the American college student, Student affairs functions, social foundations of education, and also serves as a Masters thesis/project advisor and practicum faculty supervisor.


Jay Cooper

B.S., Oakland University, M.S.Ed., Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Ed.D., Western Michigan University

Dr. Cooper joined the faculty in the Fall of 2002. He earned his Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from Western Michigan University in April, 2002. Dr. Cooper worked as a practitioner in student affairs for nineteen years. He spent 14 years at Grand Valley State University serving as Associate Director of Student Life, three years at the University of South Carolina at Columbia as Coordinator for Student Programs, and two years as a graduate assistant in the University Programming Office at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He earned his M.S.Ed. in Higher Education with a concentration in College Student Personnel at SIU and his B.S. in Public Administration from Oakland University. Dr. Cooper teaches six different CSAL courses including Student Development Theory, Administration of Student Affairs Programs, Intervention Strategies for Student Development, as well as serves as a masters thesis/project advisor, practicum faculty supervisor, and led the Mexican culture and education course in Puebla Mexico. In addition to his teaching responsibilities as an associate professor in the College of Education, Dr. Cooper is also serving as interim chair of the Leadership and Learning Department in the College of Education.

Donald Mitchell

Donald Mitchell, Jr.

Assistant Professor of Education

Program Coordinator for the M.Ed. in Higher Education program

B.S., Shaw University, M.S., Minnesota State University, Mankato, Ph.D., University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

Dr. Mitchell (DJ) joined the faculty in the Fall of 2012.  He received his Ph.D. in educational policy and administration with a concentration in higher education from University of Minnesota—Twin Cities in February 2012.  Prior to his current role, he served as graduate recruitment and retention specialist at the University of Rochester and as an instructor of educational leadership and pre-doctoral fellow at Minnesota State University, Mankato.  He received a M.S. in educational leadership from Minnesota State University, Mankato and a B.S. in chemistry from Shaw University.  Dr. Mitchell teaches Theories of College Student Development (EDH 647), The American College Student (EDH 652), Organization and Administration of Higher Education (EDH 656), Higher Education and Student Affairs Functions (EDH 657), The Community College (EDH 657), as well as serves as a master’s thesis/project adviser (ED 693/695).  His research interests include Black Greek-lettered organizations, historically Black colleges and universities, intersectionality and higher education, race and gender in higher education, and qualitative research methods.

College Student Affairs Leadership/Adult and Higher Education Adjunct Faculty

Andy Beachnau

Andrew Beachnau

Director of Housing and Health Services

B.A., Alma College; M.Ed., Grand Valley State University; Ph.D., Michigan State University

Andy Beachnau is the Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs & Director of Housing & Health Services. In his current role, Andy is responsible for overall leadership for Housing and Residence Life, Campus Health Center, Campus Recreation, and The Children’s Enrichment Center.  Andy has been at Grand Valley for 32 years in a number of positions. He began his professional career at GVSU as a Hall Director in 1982 and became a Residence Life Coordinator in 1984. In 1986, he became Assistant Director of Housing and was later promoted to Associate Director of Housing in 1990. After serving one year as Acting Director of Housing and Health Services, he was hired as the Director of Housing and Health Services in 1995.  
Andy received his Bachelor of Arts from Alma College in 1982 in Political Science and Physical Education, his M.Ed. in Education Administration from Grand Valley State University in 1985, and his Ph.D. in 1995 from Michigan State University in College and University Administration. He has taught graduate courses adjunct in the College of Education since l995.  Andy's wife Jacqueline (GVSU, 1987) is an RN at Spectrum Health. They live in Walker with their daughter Alexandra and son Sean.   
Favorite Quote: “Every student matters, and what you do matters to students”

Thomas Butcher

Thomas A. Butcher

University Counsel, Vice President and General Counsel

B.S. Ferris State University; J.D., Thomas M. Cooley Law School

Mr. Butcher joined Grand Valley in 1982 as the Assistant to the Personnel Officer and became its first general counsel in 1989, a position he continues to hold.  He is a member of the GVSU Senior Management Team.  During the summer of 1996, Mr. Butcher was selected to participate in the Institute for Educational Management at Harvard University's School of Graduate Education.  From 1998 to 2005, he served as a member of the Board of Education of the Hudsonville Public Schools.  In 1999, he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to travel throughout Germany and study its educational system.  Mr. Butcher served on the Board of Directors of the National Association of College and University Attorneys from 1996-99.  In 2007, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Award, the highest award conferred by National Association of College and University Attorneys.  Mr. Butcher earned his Bachelor of Science degree with a dual major in Business Administration and Industrial/Personnel Relations, with high honors, from Ferris State University and his Juris Doctor degree, cum laude, from Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

Aaron Haight

Aaron Haight

Assistant Dean of Students

B.A.A. Central Michigan University, M.P.A., Grand Valley State University, Ed.D., Eastern Michigan University

Aaron Haight has worked with the students at GVSU since 2000. She currently serves as the Assistant Dean of Students coordinating the student judicial process as well as working with the CSAL Graduate Assistant Program. As assistant director of Student Life (2000 – 2013) she spent her first seven years advising the fraternity and sorority community and her last six years in the OSL coordinating the Transitions Orientation program and a variety of student organization services. Prior to coming to GVSU, Aaron worked as a project manager for Edison Schools, Inc. in New York City and as a special events and development coordinator at Special Olympics Michigan.

Aaron graduated with her Bachelor of Applied Arts degree from Central Michigan University, her Master of Public Administration from Grand Valley State University, and her Doctor of Education from Eastern Michigan University.  The title of her dissertation is “Examining the Impact of Student Involvement and Intercultural Experiences on Perceptions of Institutional Commitment to Diversity.

Aaron is also a facilitator of StrengthsQuest and True Colors. She consults with area K-12 schools in college access, hazing, and diversity initiatives. She is active member of the Allendale Rotary and volunteers with the Allendale PTO, Allendale Youth Soccer Organization, and Allendale Little League. 

Bart Merkle

H. Bart Merkle

H. Bart Merkle

Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students

B.A., Hope College; M.A., Ed.D., Western Michigan University

Dr. Bart Merkle serves as Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at Grand Valley where he has been the senior student affairs officer since his arrival in 1984.  Previously, he served in other student affairs roles including: Acting Dean of Students and Associate Dean of Students at Tulane University; Associate Dean of Students, Assistant Dean of Students, Director of Career Planning & Placement, and Hall Director at Kalamazoo College; and Admissions Counselor at Hope College.

Bart earned the BA degree with a major in political science from Hope College, and the MA and Ed.D. degrees in Counseling and Personnel Administration in Higher Education from Western Michigan University.  His teaching focuses on EDH 651 Higher Education and Student Affairs Functions, EDH 653 Administration of Student Affairs Programs, and EDH 685/686 Practicum/Graduate Field Experience I & II.

Bart and his wife, Anne, have five children and seven grandchildren. They live in Allendale, MI where they enjoy breeding Labrador retrievers, horseback riding, and kayaking.

Diana Pace

Diana Pace

Associate Dean of Students Emerita

B.A., Duke University; M.A., University of North Dakota; Ph.D., University of North Dakota

Diana Pace completed her B.A. degree in History at Duke University in 1963 and her Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of North Dakota in 1976.  She has been at Grand Valley State University for most of the past 37 years with a slight hiatus at the University of Puget Sound and private practice as a psychologist in Grand Rapids.  She served as Director of the Counseling Center at Grand Valley from 1984 until 2002.  During her tenure, the Counseling Center established an American Psychological Association internship training program.  Diana is a licensed psychologist and was one of the first women in the State of Michigan to receive her Diplomate in Counseling Psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology.  She has authored over 25 articles for professional journals and written The Career Fix-It Book (a self-help book on career planning).  Diana was among the first faculty to teach in the CSAL program.  She taught Intervention Strategies for several years prior to the hiring of permanent faculty for the program.  She has recently retired from her position as Associate Dean of Students and is enjoying teaching the practicum course with Dean Merkle and playing with her grandchildren.

Patricia Smith

Patricia C. Smith

Deputy University Counsel

B.S., Belmont College, J.D., Marquette University

Patricia Clifton Smith studied Elementary and Special Education at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana and Belmont College in Nashville, Tennessee, graduating cum laude from Belmont College with a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary and special education. After teaching elementary school in Chicago, Illinois for several years she returned to school and graduated from Marquette University School of Law in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she was a member of Law Review. 

She began her law career in Wisconsin as a private practice attorney in a general practice office.  After moving to Oklahoma, she served as managing attorney for a state funded office providing legal advocacy services for developmentally disabled adults in Oklahoma before returning to private practice as partner in a law firm specializing in employment and discrimination issues.  Ms. Smith was also co-owner of a consulting business that provided human resources support to employers and small business owners.  For the past thirteen years she has worked for Grand Valley State University and is currently the Deputy Legal Counsel. 

Ms. Smith’s experience both as an attorney in private practice and as in house counsel in higher education includes representation of management in discrimination and sexual harassment claims; investigation of employee misconduct; representation of management in wrongful termination and unemployment compensation claims; interpretation of applicable federal and state regulatory requirements for employers; wage and hour claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act; representation of management in employment discrimination claims involving age, sex, race and disability; oversight of K-12 charter school compliance and planning and implementing reductions-in-force and corporate downsizing. Ms. Smith is an expert in adult guardianship proceedings and is trained in alternate dispute resolution.


Jessica Jennrich

Jessica Jennrich

Director, Women's Center

B.A., Bowling Green University; M.A., Eastern Michigan University; Ph.D., University of Missouri

Jessica Jennrich began in July 2013 as the Director of the Women’s Center.  Previously Jessica worked at Dartmouth College Directing the Center for Gender and Student Engagement and before that at the University of Missouri where she directed the Undergraduate Program in the Women’s Gender Studies Department as well as taught Women’s and Gender Studies courses.  She is currently involved in a number of higher education and feminist organizations and is a reviewer for The Diversity and Higher Education Journal.  Jessica is a former grant partner and guest writer for the American Association for University Women policy magazine.  Jessica is a contributor to research in the field of feminist disability studies as well as gender in higher education.  Jessica holds professional competencies in The National Association of Student Affairs Professionals in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion as well as Suicide Prevention. Jessica is also a writer of creative non-fiction, most recently published in Paradigm Magazine.

Jessica earned her bachelor’s degree at Bowling Green State University in English, her master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University in Women’s and Gender Studies, and her doctorate at the University of Missouri in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.

Nykia Gaines

Nykia D. Gaines

Senior Academic Advisor, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS)

B.S., Grand Valley State University; M.Ed., Grand Valley State University; Ph.D., Bowling Green State University

Dr. Gaines began her professional career at Grand Valley in 2001 as a Living Center Director and later became an Apartment Director in 2005. In 2008, Dr. Gaines accepted a fellowship in Bowling Green State University’s Higher Education Administration doctoral program. During her tenure at BGSU, Dr. Gaines served as an Academic Advisor in the College of Education and Human Development. After earning her doctorate, Dr. Gaines returned to Grand Valley in June 2013 as a Senior Academic Advisor in the CLAS Academic Advising Center. There she advises School of Communications majors and assists with assessment and strategic planning, web design, international student orientation, and special projects.

Dr. Gaines received her Bachelor of Science from Grand Valley State University in 1998 in Criminal Justice, her Master of Education with a specialization in College Student Affairs Leadership from Grand Valley State University in 2001, and her Doctorate of Philosophy in Higher Education Administration from Bowling Green State University in 2012. Dr. Gaines’ research interests include study abroad among African Americans, academic advising, and internationalization and globalization in higher education.