Working Together: Two Familiar Faces Take the Helm of MTU’s Student Affairs Division

Michigan Tech's vice president for student affairs and dean of students talk about their work in the Waino Wahtera Center for Student Success
Michigan Tech's vice president for student affairs and dean of students talk about their work in the Waino Wahtera Center for Student Success
Laura Bulleit, vice president for student affairs, and Kellie Raffaelli, dean of students, have been helping Huskies for nearly a decade. Their new roles expand opportunities for student outreach and meaningful connections.

If you don’t know Laura Bulleit or Kellie Raffaelli, chances are you’re a newcomer to Michigan Tech’s campus — and they won’t be strangers to you for long.

Two of Michigan Technological University’s most familiar faces, Laura Bulleit and Kellie Raffaelli, took on new roles in the University’s Student Affairs division last fall, expanding their longstanding efforts to build community and provide resources that help students find success. Bulleit was chosen as vice president for student affairs and Raffaelli stepped into dual roles as dean of students and associate vice president for student affairs. 

Michigan Student Vice President for Student Affairs Laura Bulleit in her office sharing her leadership tips and how she supports Huskies.
Laura Bulleit, vice president for student affairs, has been serving Huskies for more than a decade. 

Bulleit earned her bachelor’s and master’s in civil engineering at Michigan Tech, and was an academic advisor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering for five years during the 1990s. She has worked in the Dean of Students Office since 2013, served as Blue Key Honor Society Advisor since 2015 and was an advisor for Alpha Gamma Delta Women’s Fraternity for several years.

Raffaelli began her career at Tech 11 years ago as the director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, serving as special assistant to the president for the Tech Forward Initiative on Diversity and Inclusion. Like Bulleit, her other roles on campus have focused on advocating for students: as an advisor for Greek Life and registered student organizations, director of International Programs and Services, and as both an assistant and associate dean of students.

In this Q&A, Bulleit and Raffaelli share how they’re working together to help Huskies thrive personally and academically. They reflect on challenges met and offer practical tips to help students as the University enters the activity-packed final weeks of the spring 2024 semester.

Q: Why did you take your new position?

LB: I took this on because I have a passion for helping students. Coming up from in-the-weeds, boots-on-the-ground work with Student Affairs, you really see where the needs are. You see how you can directly impact students. Having that perspective and being able to use that perspective to provide direction for the whole division was really exciting for me.

KR: My professional goal was always to be dean of students. My background in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), academic student support, disability services — all of that experience gives me a really balanced approach to supporting students. I try hard to be fair, accessible and understanding. I felt I could do more good as dean of students and impact more students that way.

Q: Why is advocating for students important to you?

LB: Some of our students are coming in not knowing or being equipped on how best to advocate for themselves. Meeting with the students, finding out what their needs are, what they’re struggling with, and then putting that into the words that are going to resonate with other areas on campus and help the students get the support and services they need is really important. That’s something I think everyone in our division does really well — talking with our students and meeting them where they’re at, and then helping them advocate for themselves or advocating for them.

KR: I go with what Laura says! Everybody deserves an opportunity to reach their goals, whatever those may be.  Our role is to help them understand what that means and to support them.

Q: Tell us about your staff.

LB: We couldn’t do this without them! We are so fortunate to have excellent, professional, fun, enthusiastic people. 

KR: They really know the students. They know how to support them. They build strong relationships with them. They’re our students’ strongest advocates. They are incredible people.

LB: They’re all focused on increasing their knowledge about each of their areas. We have experts in college student mental health. We have experts in college student success. We have experts in conduct-related issues, and student leadership and involvement. Our staff is always striving to do better and go the extra mile.

KR: We have to tell them to take breaks.

LB: Kellie and I each rely on our team a lot. We trust that they are the experts in their areas. They’re getting the work done and we’re putting the pieces together.

KR: There’s no worry if I’m out of the office or something happens. There are multiple people who I can count on and trust to step in, step up and help out. Colleagues help out wherever they can, showing up for us and allowing us to continuously serve students. It’s really reciprocal. Everyone’s helping each other.

Q: You’ve both talked about working closely together in your new roles. What does that look like?

LB: We’re looking at redeveloping our Student Affairs mission and vision. Sitting down and having a brainstorm session with Kellie is really helpful because she has a different outlook and a different perspective than I do. We balance each other out. Neither of us are afraid to ask the other for their opinion or help. It’s not me and my ideas. It’s our ideas. 

Kellie Raffaelli, dean of students, shown in her office with an open door and a bookshelf of MTU memorabilia and resources behind her, has been serving Huskies for 11 years.
Kellie Raffaelli, dean of students, has been serving Huskies for 11 years.

KR: We both are prone to talk things out and brainstorm, discuss and have a shared vision. We do a lot of that. We talk about what’s happening now and where we’d like to go in the future. I think we really bounce off each other. We’re not afraid to push back, to discuss. I feel like our directors and assistant deans also feel empowered to do that. They’re not afraid to say, “I disagree with that,” or “I don’t think this is the right direction.” I think that’s because Laura and I work hard to create that environment.

Q: What are some of the challenges that you’re taking on?

LB: The current political climate poses a challenge. The discussions that are happening on campus between students and between student groups — it’s about challenging the students to take a step back and take a critical look at their own viewpoints and the viewpoints of others. The challenge really is how do we educate the students in that way? How do we get to the students and get them involved and encourage them to come together to have these discussions? That’s something that we’ve spent quite a bit of time on — Kellie in particular. She’s leading our DEIS strategic plan and the education we have planned around that.

Another challenge is really helping everyone across campus to understand Student Affairs: who we are, the work we do and how we do it. I think there’s a tendency for some of our people on the academic side to not fully realize the depth and extent of our programs and services. So, getting the word out.

Multiple Student Affairs Programs Support Student Success

The scope of Student Affairs at Michigan Tech extends far beyond the Dean of Students Office — although that’s a good place to start if you or someone you know needs assistance.

The Wahtera Center for Student Success offers essential student resources, including the Orientation program, accessibility services and success coaching.

Student Leadership and Involvement focuses on leadership development through extracurricular experiences that help students grow, serve and connect.

International Programs and Services addresses the specific needs of international Huskies, including everything from how to navigate required paperwork and processes to creating community connections.

The Center for Student Mental Health and Well-being provides programs and services for students, including on-demand support and therapy groups, individual counseling, medication management and other health and well-being resources. 

The Center for Diversity and Inclusion offers counseling and referral services that foster student success, enhancing retention and graduation outcomes while fostering a sense of belonging for all Huskies.

Career Services works with Huskies to develop the skills, networks and experiences that lead to fulfilling careers. Support includes advisors, peer support coaches, guidance for internships, co-ops and events throughout the year to help students land great jobs.

The Office of Academic and Community Conduct promotes a culture of scholastic integrity at Michigan Tech.

KR: Another big challenge we’ve tackled head on is handling some staffing shortages post-pandemic. We have managed that well while never missing a beat serving the students. Even when we were understaffed, we were still showing up and serving the students. We’ve been able to make really smart strategic decisions to fill those positions or work toward filling those positions.

Q: Is there anything else you wish Huskies knew about the services Student Affairs provides?

LB: One of the most frustrating things is when we get a student complaint-concern form, and it’s anonymous. You see something in that complaint or concern that you know you can help with. You want to get more information about it, you want to understand the situation, you want to figure out why the student feels this way. But you can’t reach out to them. You think, “I could do something about this. But I need more information. Why didn’t you include your name?”

KR: The Office of Academic and Community Conduct does have a disciplinary function, but it’s so much more. That office does a lot of campus education on academic integrity and what that means, and talking with students — right now focusing heavily on how AI has crashed into the academic integrity world and navigating that. Rob Bishop (assistant dean of academic conduct) is on the forefront of those conversations and helping faculty manage those considerations as well.

On the community conduct side, this is where conversations are happening on free speech and discourse, and demonstrations and protests, and how we’re helping students navigate this on a college campus while maintaining good status. A lot of that education and support is coming out of that area. What I always love and respect out of that area is the dedication to education first. It’s not about being punitive. It’s about you learning from the mistake you made so that you can learn and grow.

LB: Our Career Services area does a great job of getting the word out about our students, building and encouraging relationships with companies so they’re not just coming for Career Fair. They want to be on campus for Design Expo. They want to be on campus to help our students figure out what their next step is on their path to a career. They want to meet with the students at a younger age. They want to be involved with academics and research. Our Career Services area is really helping bring all of those people together.

KR: Student Leadership and Involvement is about helping students develop those skills that the workforce is looking for. What we unfortunately call 'soft skills' are really important skills. For example, many of our students spend spring break serving others. The SLI office leads that initiative.

"Educational outcomes are always our first and foremost priority."Kellie Raffaelli, dean of students

LB: We also offer restorative practices to students.

KR: We do a lot of education and workshops on campus for having difficult conversations. Many of us are mediators and facilitators. A skill that many of us have in Student Affairs is that when students are upset about something or complain about something, the response is, “Come in and let’s talk about it.” We want to help students understand the whys behind the decision-making — and maybe we don’t agree, but they come away understanding why the University’s position is what it is. We’re serving the entire student body, not only a sector, so when students take us up on the invitation to have a conversation, those are the most meaningful, because we get to have difficult conversations about difficult topics.

Q: What do you want to say to Huskies as we enter the spring semester sprint, where the pressure is on and final projects are coming to fruition?

LB: The big message is, this year and next — both spring semesters — there’s going to be such a long time period between spring break and the end of the semester because of the way the calendar is situated. That’s going to be really hard on our students. We want them to know that if they’re struggling, they need to reach out for help. They don’t need to do it alone. They need to reach out for help — sooner rather than later. Taking some time out for themselves is important. It might mean you’re not doing anything on a Saturday afternoon — don’t feel guilty. You need a little bit of downtime in there, too.

KR: We’re promoting different things that are happening on campus to encourage students to take those breaks. Often in the spring, we have a lot of cultural nights — (we’re) encouraging them to take part in those, and to pace themselves.

Let’s Talk About It

You can make an appointment with Raffaelli or Bulleit by emailing or visiting the Waino Wahtera Center for Student Success in Room 134 of the Administration Building

If you prefer a more casual setting, Raffaelli hangs out on the first floor of the Van Pelt and Opie Library for open office hours beginning at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and 2 p.m. on Wednesdays. Students are welcome to stop by with concerns or questions, or just to say hi.

Q: You’ve been working together for a while. What’s your favorite thing about each other?

LB: Kellie’s ability to be fun — and be real with the students. She’s not afraid to push them. I sometimes tend to want to solve the students’ problems for them, but Kellie’s like, “No no no, you can figure this out. You can do it yourself.” And she helps them figure it out. Tough love is the big piece.

KR: Yeah, tough love — support and challenge. And I love how Laura’s not afraid to push faculty. I think we have strengths on different sides of the coin. I feel Laura’s really good at talking with faculty and other administrators in a really effective way. We complement each other very well.

We’re both very relational. We build strong relationships. Even if we build those relationships differently, we value the relationships that we’ve built. I think we also like the challenges. It’s kind of funny; coming into these positions, we actually swapped who reports to us, which I think is a wonderful challenge. We’re both not just doing what we’ve always done for the last couple of years. Both of us have to learn new areas, which is making us both really well-rounded.

LB: I think having someone new really helps those areas, too. 

Q: Can you give us an example? 

LB: When the Center for Diversity and Inclusion came back into Student Affairs, it was intentional that they report to me, not Kellie, so that we didn’t fall back on the way things were done when Kellie was director of CDI. 

KR: I wanted them to do their thing, not my thing — how I used to do it. I’m supervising the Center for Mental Health and Well-being, which Laura has supervised for many years. It’s a whole new set of learning, which we both like doing. 

LB: It would be easy to do it the other way.

KR: It would be. But where’s the fun in that?

LB: Easy isn’t always fun.

Q: What are some of the ways you relax and destress?

LB: This year, I’ve tried hard to make it a priority to leave work in time to make it to CrossFit class. Previously it was not uncommon for me to be here until 6:30 or 7. Getting outside is also huge. 

KR: Weather dependent, I like being in the outdoors. Camping, hiking, etc. I try to have non-negotiables about the 6-7 p.m. time to have dinner with my family. I like working out, too.

Q: It’s Women’s History Month and we’d be remiss if we didn’t ask for your advice on being women in leadership roles and how you’ve learned to lead.

LB: For me, it’s about not being afraid to speak up. Maybe it’s helped being a student in the engineering curriculum here. I’ve always felt comfortable as one of the few women in the classroom or on the project team and not letting that get in my way. Having confidence that you’re where you should be. Not to say that I’ve never had imposter syndrome symptoms, but it’s not like those linger for very long.

KR: As a leader, you have to keep your ego in check. If you’re afraid to ask for help or admit mistakes or ask questions, all you’re doing is holding yourself back. I’m a big fan of asking questions. I want to know what I don’t know. I would much rather learn and understand than pretend like I know it. It’s OK to make mistakes, and I want to model that for the people I lead. Take ownership for mistakes, do what you can to correct it, then move on. 

I think I’ve had excellent role models and have learned by watching and modeling. I think Laura would agree with me that Bonnie Gorman (former dean of students) was an exceptional role model for us. My own mom was an exceptional leader who I leaned on for a lot of advice. Lorelle Meadows (founding dean of the Pavlis Honors College) was a very strong leader. I can name lots of strong women leaders that I’ve been lucky to work alongside.

I’ve also had other models where I learned what not to do or how I would do it differently. When I went into my doctorate on higher education leadership, I had a negative feeling that I’m so empathetic. I thought that being highly empathetic was not a good thing. Through that program, I learned that being empathetic is a strength rather than a detriment. That helped me embrace that quality in myself.

LB: Vulnerability is such an important thing to help you lead, and for the people you lead to see you be vulnerable.

KR: I would never want anyone to feel like they couldn’t come to me and say “I made a mistake. Can you help me fix it?” 

LB: Vulnerability humanizes you and helps you be more relatable to your staff.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.