Sheryl Tynes walks past the Murchison Tower in her full regalia
It’s a Wonderful Life
Trinity’s vice president for Student Affairs reflects on what it means to be an advocate

Advocate: Used as both a noun and a verb, this word comes from the Latin word advocare, meaning “to call or summon,” and refers not only to people giving voice to needs but also to a calling or vocation. 

In 1983, I drove from Tucson, Arizona, with three graduate school friends to attend the American Sociological Association (ASA) meeting in San Antonio. It was my first time here, and I fell in love with this city. Of course, at that time, I had no idea I would one day live here. During that conference, I met a professor named Dr. Michael Kearl who studied aging. A mentor from my graduate program who went to Stanford University with Mike introduced us because I was writing a political history of Social Security. 

Fast forward to the spring of 1988, and I was on the academic job market. Again, I was at the national ASA meeting, and Mike Kearl left me a handwritten note at the registration desk (this was pre-email and cell phone text messages!), letting me know that Trinity University was looking for someone who could teach statistics. I knew that I would love teaching the powerful (and marketable) skill of statistical analysis. 

When I joined Trinity’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology in August of 1988, I had just defended my dissertation, moved across the desert Southwest, and skidded into town with grand anticipation. Small details might have been missed: Did students need textbooks for my three classes? Yes. Had they been ordered? No. Bea Fagan—our beloved administrative assistant—came to the rescue. 

Sheryl Tynes (center) stands with her fellow faculty members in Trinity’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology in 1992.

The department intentionally hired Dr. Meredith McGuire (fully tenured) and me (tenure-track) to ensure I had a strong female mentor. Meredith was my guardian angel—as were Mike Kearl, Don Van Eynde, and John Donahue. Before Trinity had family leave, John ensured that I had time with our newborns when we had our son, Grayam, in 1992 and our daughter, Tess, in 1994. (Fun facts: Since I retained my maiden name when I got married, Trinity students helped me choose the last name for our kids, “Sailor-Tynes.” Music majors said it was the most musically pleasing. Names of Trinity students inspired our kids’ first names as well.) 

In 2003, I was on academic leave when the super-human Moya Ball decided to step down from her 70-hour weeks as the associate vice president for Academic Affairs. I had no interest in applying for her job, but Dr. Michael Fischer restructured the position to make it more humane. When I accepted the job, I joined an amazing team in that office—Sarah Burke, Fred Loxsom, and later Diane Smith. In that work, I was involved closely with amazing colleagues in other divisions, including Student Life, and in 2016, I was invited to serve as vice president for Student Life. I said yes because I knew that I would have superstars as partners in the difficult 24/7/365 work that Student Life does so quietly and humbly behind the scenes. 

Through it all, helping Trinity students navigate life’s frictions and walking with them side-by-side through tragedies and challenges have been the most meaningful work I have ever done. Working with our first-generation, Pell-eligible students; giving students a place to call home; easing life’s burdens; and focusing on the bright lights ahead of the dark times have meant that my relationships with so many are deep and abiding. These students are sprinkled all over the planet—Hong Kong, Cameroon, Denmark, Jordan, Istanbul, London, India, and all over the Americas—all making a difference. They stay in touch. They send photos and cards. We visit in person when we can. Connecting them to current students is so fun, and seeing the sparks fly in those connections brings a ton of joy. 

Sheryl Tynes (left) and her family pose in front of mountains while on a vacation in New Zealand.

What lies ahead for me and my family? I am stepping down as the vice president for Student Life and returning to the sociology faculty this August to teach the next two fall semesters. I have a year of administrative leave, and my family and I are planning worldwide bucket-list-worthy travels in Spring 2024 and 2025. 

All of us who give our time, talent, and treasure to our amazing young people advocate for them so they may find joy in a well-lived and purposeful life. And the one constant with Trinity students—they remind us what loving kindness is each and every day. 

It truly is a wonderful life.

Sheryl Tynes, Ph.D., former vice president for Student Life, continues to advocate for student success as a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

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