Executive director steps down, reflects on career

Coleman-Mitchell helped with advancing health services for transgender individuals



Renee Coleman-Mitchell, executive director of Cougar Health Services, talks about leaving her current position Tuesday morning at the Access Center.

JAYCE CARRAL, Evergreen reporter

Cougar Health Services’ (CHS) executive director will step down from her position due to family obligations.

Renee Coleman-Mitchell, CHS executive director, said she will leave WSU on March 15. She said she began her career at CHS in September of 2016.

Coleman-Mitchell said her job consisted of leading CHS management and operations, especially when pertaining to the physical, emotional and mental health of WSU students.

“We have everything a student needs except for dental,” she said. “Our vision is [for] every student [to have] lifelong health — that they not only get that piece of paper, but also know what to do to keep themselves healthy.”

Coleman-Mitchell said the integration of CHS is vital to treating the student body. She said some CHS providers notice physical manifestations resulting from mental and emotional pain.

She said starting and advancing health services for transgender individuals at WSU was one of her greatest accomplishments. Coleman-Mitchell began those services two years ago.

She said she leads CHS’s transition into becoming a component within the Division of Student Affairs.

“We are in the business of supporting students in their success with academia,” she said. “We are here as a support system.”

She also hired a psychiatrist to the CHS staff.

Coleman-Mitchell said her mission included promoting health through the infusion of education and prevention methods.

“Even though I am in administration, I have become a mentor to many students who reach out to me,” Coleman-Mitchell said. “That’s not a part of the job description, but to me, if you are on a college campus, that comes with it.”

Coleman-Mitchell said she faced some challenges during her time at WSU. Many of the problems involved CHS’s finances.

“You can always justify the need to have additional staff. The budget is a finite amount of dollars that would only allow us to have a finite amount of staff,” she said. “We need to add a couple more positions, but we are unable to do that in this fiscal year because the budget does not allow it.”

Coleman-Mitchell said CHS is under renovations, but she hopes to see CHS move to a new building.

She said she accepted the position for Connecticut Commissioner of Public Health and begins her term on April 1.

“I interviewed, and I didn’t think I’d get it, but I did,” Coleman-Mitchell said. “I am excited, but I’m not there yet. Life is going to be very different.”

She said her obligations to help tend to her sick family member is what pushed her over to accept the new position and leave WSU.

Ellen Taylor, associate vice president for student engagement, said she will fill Coleman-Mitchell’s position as CHS executive director.

“Since I am her supervisor, I will be stepping in as we conduct a national search to fill the position,” she said. “All the folks that Renee supervises will be reporting to me.”

Taylor said the position will ideally be occupied before the beginning of the 2019 fall semester.

“When she told me she was leaving, she had tears in her eyes,” Taylor said. “She has brought tremendous passion. She cares a lot about students.”

Coleman-Mitchell said she would definitely consider returning to WSU in the future.

“If I could do anything different, [it would be] just communicating more about our needs and having folks recognize the importance Cougar Health has on student life,” she said. “It’s bittersweet. I love the students. I love my job. I love my staff. I wish I didn’t have to go. I found my niche here.”