You could say that Teresa Sewell’s career in higher education is tied to a Coke.
When she was a student at West Texas State University, now West Texas A&M, in Canyon, she was talking in her dorm one day after class and a resident assistant said she had an idea for Sewell.
The RA asked what Sewell, who became senior associate vice president for student services at University of Texas Permian Basin, thought about joining the student activities council. Sewell replied that she didn’t know anything about student activities, so the RA told her a little bit about it.
“She said we meet every week and if you come you get a Coke. I was a poor, starving college student. I didn’t have many Cokes, so that Coke got me to that first meeting,” Sewell said.
“That first meeting, it was kind of a new experience for me but it was pleasant, obviously, so then I started going back for that Coke. Then before long, I got more involved and I was the one buying the Cokes and handing out the Cokes, so it just kind of grew from there,” she added.
She became chair of the marketing committee of the student activities council and enjoyed planning events on campus.
Her experience at WT led to her position at UTPB, which she will be retiring from Aug. 31 after nearly 35 years. She will be moving back to her hometown of Nazareth to care for her father.
Sewell earned a degree in marketing from WT. Coincidentally, she said, the RA who encouraged her to get involved in student activities was from Odessa.
At UTPB, she earned a master’s degree in counseling.
“It’s a good degree for the job,” Sewell said. But if she had it to do over again, she would have gone for a master’s in higher education.
Sewell has eight people who report to her and new programs are always being added.
Her job includes overseeing student life, intramurals, child care, counseling, housing, transportation, student conduct and medical services.
Corey Benson, associate dean of students, helps Sewell deal with student issues and student conduct.
When she graduated from WT, Sewell found an opening at UTPB. A friend told her he didn’t know if she would like it because there was only one building at the time. Now there are much more.
At the time, UTPB also only took upper-level students. It didn’t start taking freshmen until 1991.
“I think it’s great. When I first came here, it didn’t really look like a campus. … It’s truly looking and feeling like a campus now, so it’s very exciting,” Sewell said.
Over the years, Sewell said she has met a lot of people and made a lot of friends.
“We’ve had some great events on campus, but I think what I enjoy is seeing the success of students; to watch them develop from that freshman who’s really unsure of what they’re doing and what they want to do. And then sometimes by senior year, they’re either a student leader themselves, or they are very involved in doing research with the faculty …,” she added.
Jessica Zuniga, director of the office of external relations at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, said she worked with Sewell for six years from 2007-2013 in the student services department as the director of student life.
“I consider her to be one of my mentors. I learned a lot from her over the years I was there. She led by example in our student services team. We hosted a ton of events throughout the years and she was always there to help and make sure students were having a good time. UTPB will never be the same without her. I wish her nothing but the best in her retirement. Thank you for all the great memories,” Zuniga said in an email.
Sewell and her husband, Kelly, have four boys and one grandchild. Graduation is typically a special time for her, but this year, one of her sons was graduating from Conception Seminary College in Conception, Mo., so she went to that.
“I knew a lot of students who were graduating this semester, so I was sad to miss that,” Sewell said.
As part of her retirement festivities, UTPB had a Teresa Sewell Day.
“It was pretty wild. They kept it pretty (secret) for a while. It turned out to be a great event. It was really enjoyable. I’m very appreciative to the people that put the time in to organize it and were there during the event,” Sewell said.
“It’s been a great run. It’s been exciting to be involved in all the changes with the campus — the physical, the student body and all the changes we’ve implemented over the years. It’s mixed emotions leaving, but I am optimistic about the candidates that they’re bringing in and I think there’s just so much potential here at the university, and particularly in student services, of what we can provide to the students and how we can help them develop their careers and have meaningful, impactful lives,” she added.