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Saint Mary’s announces 12th president

| Wednesday, February 17, 2016

South Bend native Jan Cervelli was introduced to the Saint Mary’s community Wednesday afternoon as the 12th president of the College.

Cervelli said she grew up across the St. Joseph River and it has been a “wonderful homecoming” to be back in the community.

St. Marys President, Monica Villagomez Mendez, SMCsNewPresCaitlyn Jordan | The Observer

“God has taken me on so many great journeys, and he brought me back here for the greatest purpose of all,” she said.

Cervelli said she is not the only one thrilled to be back home; her mother, a resident of Granger, said she is happy to have Jan back in the area. Cervelli said she has been running into classmates and neighbors since she has been back and has received a tremendous amount of support from the community.

Cervelli attended Holy Cross grade school and Saint Joseph High School in South Bend. Her sister, Patricia, is a Saint Mary’s alumna and member of the class of 1972. Cervelli chose Purdue because of her interest in architecture, though she would have liked to attend Saint Mary’s, she said.

“I’ve always appreciated the seamlessness about spirituality and subjects taught [in Holy Cross education],” she said. “The spiritual dimension gives much more meaning and depth to the education.”

Coming from a background of larger universities, Cervelli is leaving a position as dean of the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture and professor of landscape architecture at the University of Arizona.

She said the smaller school atmosphere is exciting because of the sense of intimacy, the strong connection to students and she cited the 10:1 student-to-professor ratio at the College as a testament to how Saint Mary’s fully engages students in the classroom.

She also said her experience in landscape architecture, which is taught in a small studio settings, lends itself well to her understanding of how learning happens in a more intimate setting.

Prior to her work at the University of Arizona, Cervelli served as the first female dean at Clemson University when she was selected as its dean of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities, according to a College press release.  She has also served as associate dean for Undergraduate Studies and director of the Teaching and Learning Center at the University of Kentucky.

Cervelli said she recognizes the importance of interdisciplinary connections that can be made to make the educational environment even richer at the College.

She said her first priorities as president of the College are getting to know the staff, faculty and students.

“I want to be able to have strong conversations and spend time understanding from the student perspective,” she said. “I like to call it a listening tour.”

Additionally, Cervelli said she wantd to immerse herself into student life at the College.

“I want to become a part of the class of 2020,” she said. “ … I want to be able to walk the walk with students and see what it’s like to take classes, to live in the dorm, to eat the food.”

Her next priority is to get to know the alumnae around the country, Cervelli said.

“Saint Mary’s has fabulous alumnae, who are super accomplished and well connected, so I’m looking forward to getting to know people and allowing people to get to know me,” she said.

Cervelli plans to build on the partnerships with Holy Cross institutions including Notre Dame and Holy Cross and to invite the community at large to campus in a highly visible way, she said.

“Saint Mary’s is so modest,” she said. “It’s a real strength and a wonderful quality; on the same token, [we] need to brag a little bit more, so I’d like to work with the staff here to look at how we can make our mark on the world and share our accomplishments.”

Cervelli hopes to help create a more sustainable campus using her professional background and expertise.

“I’m very interested in looking at the campus itself, as a landscape architect and how can we begin to design, redesign and look to the future of development that makes the campus sustainable,” she said.

She said many students are interested in issues of sustainability today and she believes the leadership of the students could help to guide that discussion.

Cervelli said she will bring a few pets to South Bend from Arizona and looks forward to reconnecting with her childhood friends. Emphasizing the importance of balance in her life, Cervelli cited some of her interests outside of her academic career.

“I have been in rock bands since I was in high school,” Cervelli said. “I had the chance to join a band and tour in college, but I knew that my parents wouldn’t be very happy.”

Although she most often performed as a singer, Cervelli said she can also play guitar and the keyboard.

She said she gave up music between graduate school and her career as a professor and dean but later picked up the hobby again.

“When I got to Arizona, one of the faculty in Architecture heard that I used to do music … so we got together with some graduate students, played guitar and jammed. We put together a band that would play at events for the University and other events in downtown Tucson.”

Cervelli while she derives a sense of balance from music, she places value on all activities that provide it to students.

“The wellness of students is important to me,” she said, and the renovation of Angela Athletic Facility will be crucial to that wellness and helping students to live a balanced lifestyle.

Cervelli said her passion for students, music and wellness will dovetail nicely into her role as the president.

“It’s in college where you begin to learn that balance,” she said. “All leaders should demonstrate how to live that balance.”

She will also institute an open door policy when she takes office, June 1.

“I want students to know that I have an open door,” Cervelli said. “I will drop what I have to because I know that if a student is coming, then it’s important.”

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About Haleigh Ehmsen

A senior at Saint Mary's, Haleigh is majoring in Communication Studies and English Literature & Writing. She serves as the Saint Mary's editor and enjoys coffee, guacamole and good books.

Contact Haleigh