WASHINGTON SPIRIT — Spring 2007
   

 
Jill E. Carnaghi, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Students and Director of Campus Life
Creating a Thriving Campus Community

by Terri McClain

Jill Carnaghi says she doesn’t do anything per se. Her role is more about facilitating—and assisting, cajoling, persuading, mentoring—whatever it takes to work with a host of people throughout the University community “to make student experiences outside the classroom as rich and complementary as what happens inside the classroom.”

First, she says, you identify your need, and then you determine who has the capability and expertise to address that need.

“I’m continually amazed with everybody who works here,” she says, “because they like working here, and they’re really committed to undergraduate students. So there is not the separation between faculty and those who work outside the classroom. When you ask a faculty member to assist with something, you hardly ever hear no. You’ve got full professors who are engaged with freshman research, and that hasn’t always been my experience elsewhere. The wealth of this institution is more than just financial. It’s in the caliber of its students and the willingness of people to help.”

When Carnaghi came to the University in 1997 to fill a newly created position, her task was to assist in the development of the undergraduate co-curricular experience. Her responsibilities have grown over the years, so she feels fortunate that her office is strategically located in Student Activities where she can connect directly with the students.

“Every student who comes here can be successful academically,” Carnaghi says. “But how do I and my colleagues assist each one in making multiple connections to the institution so he or she feels a part of it right away? I’ve worked for a number of different institutions, but here when we talk about student empowerment, student leadership, or campus life, we really want the students to be front and center.”

Now, as Carnaghi artfully balances work and family (she lives in a neighborhood adjacent to the University, and her husband, Paul Schimmele, works with the University’s director of operations), she sometimes puts her own two children to bed and returns to campus for late events or meetings. As part of her broad range of responsibilities and engagements, she works with student activities, diverse student populations, the Annika Rodriguez Scholars Program, the Interfaith Campus Ministries Association, Greek life, event services, community service, and campus media (Hatchet, KWUR radio, and WUTV). She also advises Student Union, serves as a four-year advisor for Arts & Sciences students, and has been involved in planning the new university center.

Her mission, she says, is to help enrich the entire undergraduate experience.

“I want to have Washington University–educated people feel as if they’ve not only gotten a good academic degree from the institution, but feel they were a part of the institution, an active and engaged community member, and that they’ve learned both in and outside the classroom. I want them to leave here with a fondness for the place, willing to help future generations of Washington U. students.”

At the start of each semester, a Student Activities Fair draws hundreds of students eager to learn about some 200 different organizations and to get involved outside the classroom.

She is astonished by the creativity students bring to the table when they are involved in planning and running activities. “When you give them enough freedom and empowerment, they create things that far surpass anything that we could do for them,” she says.

Student Union, for example, manages a large budget responsibly, and other student groups raise large amounts of money for charity.

“It is really a matter of giving them the tools and asking them the right questions to continue to move forward,” says Carnaghi. “When Washington University students are at the table and engaged, they come up with the solutions, the answers, and the best way to do things. So how do we really become colleagues and resources for students and let them know we are accessible, willing to listen, although we may not agree with everything they are going to do? Not surprisingly, I don’t think there has ever been an instance when they haven’t been more responsible than I would have expected. They have always exceeded my expectations.”

Carnaghi is pleased with the direction Greek life and community service have taken since she came to the University. Her next big push is to build upon the University’s existing leadership and diversity programs.

“We have a lot of initiatives started, but I don’t think we’ve pulled them together in a way that’s as accessible as it should be,” she says. “What are the skills, characteristics, experiences, and knowledge that a Washington University–educated leader should come away with? How do we build diversity in its richest form and discuss it in ways that will advance the whole agenda of more inclusiveness, more acceptance, more celebrating of both differences and similarities? I think the new university center will facilitate a lot of interaction among members of the University community. It will be an exciting venue for a lot of these initiatives to occur. It will make them more visible.”

Terri McClain is a free-lance writer based in St. Charles, Missouri.

PEER REVIEW

“When I think of the kind of people we want at Washington University to work with students, I think first of all we want a great human being, and then we want a great professional. Jill is both of those. I think it’s the rare person who can handle the range of activities she’s been able to manage in an exemplary fashion. She is very good at seeing the big picture—where we’re trying to go and how to get there. She’s also much sought after for her advice and counsel by other institutions and organizations. She is well-known in her profession, very well-respected.”

—Jim McLeod, Vice Chancellor for Students and Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences

“Jill is a very dedicated student affairs professional. She has worked hard to create opportunities for students to become engaged in the life of the University, develop leadership and interpersonal skills, and make the most of their time in our community.”

—Justin Carroll, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Students and Dean of Students

“Jill Carnaghi is an incredible asset to our community. She clearly has committed herself and her staff to involving students in every aspect of life at WU. Whenever we collaborate on a project, Jill is always the first to be looking for a way to involve students in the process or solution. Students couldn’t ask for a better advocate. She recognizes that our challenges can be turned into learning experiences for students that make both them and the University stronger. But her advocacy is tempered with an insistence on student accountability and responsibility. Through her leadership and coaching, she makes our students better prepared for life after WU.”

—Don Strom, Chief of University Police

“Jill has been the most tremendous supervisor and mentor I could have hoped for. I think it’s because she really believes in the work she does. Most of all she believes in students, and she is constantly re-energized by her work with them. She is very fair and rational and principled, and always caring. She is such a busy person with so much on her plate, but she never loses touch with the well-being of the individual or the community.”

—Stephanie Kurtzman, Director, Community Service Office and Associate Director, Richard A. Gephardt Institute for Public Service