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University’s new rectors take first few months in stride

Justin Tardiff | Tuesday, November 1, 2005

With two months of new duties under their belts, the seven new rectors hired to replace vacancies left from last year are integrating themselves into the Notre Dame family while learning to deal with a host of its traditions, ranging from Frosh-O to home football games to SYRs and other dorm-related events.

But this integration is a process that goes hand in hand with challenges, Father Ronald Vierling of Morrissey said.

“Being a new rector is like being asked to finish writing a book begun by someone else,” Vierling said. “First you have to learn the story as written and then you have all these blank sheets staring at you and you say to yourself, ‘OK, now where do I take the story?'”

Vierling and the other new rectors, Kuukua Yomekpe of Pangborn, Sister Mary Lynch of McGlinn, Sister Janet Stankowski of Walsh, Jennifer Oliva of Howard, Rachel Kellog of Breen-Phillips and Amalia de la Torre of Cavanaugh are continuing to find their niche through their work with their respective hall staffs and by meeting the residents of their dorms.

Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Sister Jean Lenz said the new group of rectors is adjusting well to life with students in the dorm communities.

“We are really happy with the new group of rectors,” Lenz said. “They participated so well in all the orientation that took place.”

The Office of Student Affairs offers support to the new rectors through frequent interaction. Each week, senior staff members meet with the new rectors, and periodically staff members meet with the rectors individually to serve as mentors and address questions and concerns. All the rectors meet twice a month to discuss issues like parking, security, student needs and necessary dorm renovations.

But for most of the time, the fledgling rectors are all finding their respective ways a little bit differently.

De la Torre moved into Cavanaugh with her chocolate lab, Jackson.

“The dog made it easier to meet lots of the girls.” de la Torre said.

As a result of being at Notre Dame, she says her dog has become “very politically active,” participating in walks for Uganda and breast cancer causes.

But de la Torre has certainly done her part in becoming active in dorm life, joining the residents at the pep rally, supporting RecSports and contributing to the liturgy at weekly masses.

For Lynch, the support of the Office of Student Affairs, hall staff and dorm residents, has made the transition into life at Notre Dame easy.

“The hardest part is the total change in times of my day,” Lynch said. “I am more oriented towards night.”

Lynch has worked closely with students at other colleges, but she said this is the first time she has lived in community with them.

Stankowski praised the residence life system at Notre Dame, which she said was unlike those present in institutions where she previously worked.

“I love the dorms being small Christian communities,” Stankowski said. “I am still trying to learn all the people in my community, but I like how we develop leadership in the community.”

Like other rectors, Stankowski says her biggest challenge has been adjusting to the schedules of college students, “being available to people when they are available.”

She has no problem being available during normal hours, however, as demonstrated by her involvement with Walsh’s hall council.

“I see myself as being the person who works with student leaders,” Stankowski said.

Oliva, who called the support from the Notre Dame community “unbelievable,” has found her rectress experience thus far to be just as she expected. She said the only problem has been getting a routine down, since she lives where she works, but said everything else has gone smoothly for her.

She was not even flustered with the planning and execution of Howard’s first SYR of the year.

“Some junior high dances were worse than our SYR was,” Oliva said. “It went off fine.”

Yomekpe, who is also the first black female rector at Notre Dame, previously taught and served as a campus minister at the University of Dayton where she lived in a dorm with 1,600 students. She is adjusting to Notre Dame’s more intimate atmosphere and her role as the person residents go to with problems.

“I’m trying to figure out when do I close the door, say I’m taking a nap now,” Yomekpe said. “I’m carving out a place here.”

Yomekpe’s day consists of responding to phone calls and e-mail, meeting with various campus and residents and attending campus and dorm events.

“The hardest thing [about being a rector] is that there is no manual,” Yomekpe said.

Yomekpe often has ideas for different programs or things to do around campus, but is not certain whether or how to make these ideas happen. She said she is finding out who to trust herself in her endeavors at Notre Dame and learning when to ask for help.