Steve Bisese standing in the Commons with students walking by


Thanks, Steve

Steve Bisese, vice president for student development, is retiring after nearly 40 years at Richmond.

Bisese’s bailiwick was basically every part of the student experience that happened outside the classroom — residence life, living-learning programs, well-being and student health, recreational sports, and much more. To mark the occasion, we solicited questions from alumni who have known him over the years. We also asked each for a “Steve story,” a reflection on him and his legacy.

“Made UR a better place”

Rich Johnson, B’73: You’ve lived through the evolution of the college system from just Richmond College and Westhampton College to the current School of Arts & Sciences structure. Can you compare and contrast the benefits and consequential changes on the students?

Steve Bisese: The biggest difference is that move established a dean and a school that was responsible for the academic end of it [i.e., A&S]. The [legacy] colleges continue the commitment to personal attention for student concerns and student government.

There have been many, many changes. When I was an undergraduate [at William & Mary], folks in student affairs were concerned about conduct, vandalism, and substance abuse. Some of those things stay the same, but what it is now is that students come here with a lot of pressure on themselves. What we deal with today is more of the mental health and perfectionism — issues of, you know, “Am I getting an internship?” or “Am I going to major in what my parents want me to major in?” You didn’t hear about that as much back in the days when I got here.

“Truly cares”

Steve Kneeley, R’85: If you had one piece of advice to give parents and students as they enter the student body, what would that advice be?

SB: Take your time to get adjusted. You don’t have to do everything at once. But once you are adjusted, open your eyes to all UR has to offer. It is absolutely amazing — study abroad, research opportunities, personally knowing your faculty members, civic engagement. Our student organizations are so well-resourced, and they’re so meaningful. The learning communities we have either complement your academic goals or allow you to explore things outside your academics. The programs are of such quality, and they’re free. They’re just part of being here. It’s amazing.

“Bestie Bisese”

Penny Hu, ’23: What do you see as the biggest issues the university is facing over the next 10 years?

SB: I think it’s going to be all of our work to make this place even more affordable. I think Kevin [Hallock, UR’s president] is doing a wonderful job of focusing on the middle class. I look at Richmond, and I want anybody that that has earned their way to have the opportunity to be successful here. How great it is that we meet 100% of need, and I know we’ll work hard to sustain that.

I think the other is to continue to address the acute mental health issues that students face. It’s a constant worry, and we’re doing all that we can to be responsive to the very serious anxiety and so forth that students come in with.

“Very reassuring”

Buddy Cassidy, ’11: You’re regarded by many as the Ted Lasso of UR. You bring those around you up, you make us aspire to become better versions of ourselves, and you believe we can do it. The world would be a better place if we were all a bit more like you. Do you have any advice for us on how to better approach life and our relationships with others?

SB: I went into student affairs [because] I had a hard time in college myself. I remember my RA taking the time [with me]. Because of this RA, I became an RA and a head resident. An RA might have 30 people on their hall, but that person took the time to get to know me and my personal struggles.

I did not do well on standardized tests. I never had. I always felt like my SAT score was so much lower than my classmates’. I went to school thinking, “I’m going to have a hard time here. I’m not going to make it like the rest.” This RA took the time to see why I felt so nervous about academics.

That’s what’s key about schools like Richmond and how I’ve tried to act in my career: to get to know people personally and to make a difference by helping them make more responsible choices and guiding them through experiences that are great for them outside the classroom. People probably see the time I take to get to know folks. That’s the joy of the job. No matter how complex we get with programs and new initiatives that are all wonderful, we never forget that the personal touch is as important as anything. Let’s never lose that.

Steve Bisese stands on the floor in the Tyler Haynes Commons. Students study at a table, and behind them all is a large white mural on a brick wall that reads

“A champion of our ideas”

Chelsey Davidson, ’17: You first started working for the University of Richmond in 1985. What are the biggest changes that you’ve seen in UR’s student culture since then?

SB: There are so many more opportunities now than there were in 1985. In 1985, so much of the social life centered on Greek life. We still have a vibrant Greek life today for those who choose to have Greek life, but we have diversified so much as a student body. We’ve had a responsibility to have programs and support systems that match the change in the demographics of the student body. That’s the biggest change. The spirit and the pride in the University of Richmond and the care we take with students, all of that is the same. But we’ve evolved through the years as the student body has changed.

“Hard to replace”

Ken Anderson, ’17 and L’20: You’ve had quite a few accomplishments. What do you hope will be the Bisese legacy here at Richmond?

SB: I hope it’s that we took well-being head-on and are known for being an institution that has worked hard to define well-being. More than anything I had ever worked on, I wanted the health center and counseling center to be under one roof. They were on separate sides of the campus.

[Having] a well-being building, to me, was an answer to all prayers. The whole first floor is a symbol of our devotion to holistic well-being: everything from nutrition to relaxation to exercise classes to yoga and mindfulness. It’s all there, as well as a top-notch health center and counseling center with a counselor-to-student ratio that other schools would love to have.

“Gentle, deft, expert, conscious, understanding leadership”

Sam Brumberg, ’03: What are your plans for retirement? 

SB: It has been 40 years of [effectively] being on call for all of the emergencies and crises that we have. And, you know, I’m ready to relax and not have that burden on me. I look forward to spending time with my children, who are doing wonderful things. My wife and I will do a little more travel. When I get around to it, I’ll probably work with other schools to see how I can advise them in student affairs.

“One of the most decent men I know”

Diana Reighart, ’16: What do you hope that leadership — the board, the president, other VPs — keeps in mind in the next few years as they make decisions?

SB: What is special about Richmond is the collaborative spirit. We all came together for well-being; we came together for belonging — that we never forget that we’re all together as a team, and it will always be a universitywide effort. That, to me, is the foundation of the incredible results we’ve had.