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Novak shapes student risk management strategy


December 14, 2007

Kim Novak became involved in student risk management after tragedy struck at Texas A&M when the Texas Aggie Bonfire that students were constructing collapsed in 1999, killing 12 students and injuring 27 others.

Texas A&M established a student organization risk-management office with Novak in charge after the tragedy.

“That was a good example of learning from experience, and taking everything we learned and putting it into a preventive and proactive initiative,” Novak says. “That actually was the first office in the country in student affairs to do risk management.”

Novak has been in the field of student-risk management ever since, currently holding the position of director of student and campus community development at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

Novak recently was named to a review group by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools to provide advice and recommendations on the services and programs offered by the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention (AODV).

As a review board member, she’ll work with seven other individuals from across the country to offer insight to the U.S. Department of Education concerning the center’s work. The board will review the center’s annual task plan, facilitate ties with various national associations and government agencies, monitor the quality of the center’s training and technical assistance services, and serve as advocates for the center’s role in alcohol and other drug abuse, and violence prevention on college campuses.

“I can look at policy from a practitioner’s perspective and help college campuses integrate theory into their campus environment,” Novak says. “As a member of the board, I will be looked to as the subject matter expert on violence prevention in higher education.”

The center’s work addresses issues such as binge drinking that is an increasing problem at college campuses across the country.

“Other research tells us that high-risk drinking among women is on the rise,” Novak says.

Once a problem is identified, the center works to develop initiatives to assist colleges in mitigating the risk and the high-risk behavior. Board members review this work and aid in translating information back to specific campuses.

“In some respects, comparative research shows that ASU is in a better place than other universities when it comes to alcohol use,” Novak says.

Current trends that focus on high-risk behavior in college environments include addressing the problem through environmental approaches that involve students, faculty, staff, community members and local law enforcement.

“It can’t be just about policies and rules,” Novak says. “It can’t be just about social norming. It has to be more comprehensive and multidisciplinary.”

And policies have to be understandable and easily instituted into student life.

“They (students) need to understand how to interpret the policy – but, more importantly, how to act based on our expectations,” Novak says.

This applies to areas such as student violence, a hot topic in light of this year’s shootings at Virginia Tech. Novak is looking forward to taking research that the higher education center has conducted on alcohol and other drugs and applying that model to violence prevention.

“We’re struggling as a nation to react to violence in educational settings. I believe that we need to be in the prevention business,” she says.

Novak also has completed a compendium titled “Student Risk Management in Higher Education: A Legal Compendium.” She joined forces with Art Lee, ASU’s associate general counsel, to produce the work. They reviewed documents ranging from law journal articles and theoretical papers to Web sites and student organizations.

“Based on that work, we came up with a little more than 1,200 pages of what is considered to be the best information in student risk management,” Novak says.

The work outlines strategies and provides resources for specific events and situations including student travel and transportation, residential life, student organizations, academic internships and externships, events involving minors, athletic events, sports clubs, alcohol and other drugs, and high-risk behavior and mental health issues.

“It’s been pretty exciting,” she says. “I already have a file started for compendium two.”