Gaines McKenzie and New honored as Distinguished Academic Staff: University award recognizes ComArtSci staff for devotion to student success

Two academic professionals in Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences have received the 2022 Distinguished Academic Staff Award for their support and advocacy on behalf of students. 

Lauren Gaines McKenzie and Jennifer New are among this year’s cohort receiving the annual university-wide award that recognizes the outstanding achievements of academic professionals who serve MSU in advising, curriculum development, outreach, extension, research, and teaching for a minimum of 10 years. Gaines McKenzie is the Director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in the College of ComArtSci. New is the college’s Associate Director of Academic and Student Affairs.  

Lauren Gaines McKenzie: Leader, advocate, student scholar 

Gaines McKenzie advises leadership, faculty, and staff in the College of Communication Arts & Sciences on strategy related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and oversees the implementation of DEI initiatives. She is the director of IGNITE—a five-day residential bridge program that supports students, particularly those from marginalized groups, in their transition from high school to college.  

Gaines McKenzie is passionate about helping her colleagues develop and exercise critical consciousness in their everyday lives. In addition to her work, she is a doctoral student in the College of Education where she is wrapping up her dissertation that explores Black motherhood in academia. In 2022, Gaines McKenzie received the Contemporary Leader award from the Black Faculty, Staff and Administrators Association at MSU.  

“I will always be inspired by our students and creating ways that we—as staff, faculty and administrators—can support them in meaningful ways,” said Gaines McKenzie. “This award strengthens my inspiration because if affirms my commitment to advance and advocate for DEI in ways that make a difference. I am truly humbled to be honored alongside my colleagues.” 

Jennifer New: Advisor, coordinator, connector 

New came to the College of ComArtSci in 2007 with an educational and professional background steeped in international study and leadership training. She’s the College’s liaison to all exchange and study abroad students, and manages international internships for ComArtSci students. Her multi-faceted role involves coordinating the college-level scholarship process and planning the undergraduate commencement ceremony each spring for ComArtSci. As an academic advisor, New serves students majoring in communication and minoring in communicative sciences and disorders, while overseeing the work of four academic advisors in other areas of ComArtSci. Most recently, she’s played an integral role in her office’s move to the new Campus Solutions platform. 

New said she was always driven to work with college students, but was unclear of her exact path. She earned her master’s in student affairs administration from MSU, and, when she graduated, she found her niche. Starting as an academic advisor, she charted a career with increasing and progressive responsibilities, leading to her current post that she assumed in November 2021.  

New finds continuous inspiration in the people who surround her, particularly the students. Each day she’s energized by the drive, fortitude and boundless creativity of students that further cements her commitment to her job, to the College and to MSU. 

“I meet with so many driven and passionate students,” she said. “Their journeys aren't always easy or straightforward but being able to be a resource or listening ear to help them move forward is such an honor. Likewise, working with the team here in ComArtSci that goes above and beyond to support students inspires me to always do my job to the best of my ability.” 

By Ann Kammerer