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Saint Mary’s president takes office, participates in orientation

| Friday, August 19, 2016

Saint Mary’s president Jan Cervelli (left) welcomes first-year Olivia Propheter and her mom as they move into McCandless Hall.CAITLYN JORDAN | The Observer
Saint Mary’s president Jan Cervelli (left) welcomes first-year Olivia Propheter and her mom as they move into McCandless Hall.

Saint Mary’s welcomed Jan Cervelli as the College’s 12th president. Cervelli, a South Bend native, took office June 1.

“The level of excitement here is amazing,” she said. “My mission is to walk through every hall, every classroom, to spend time in the dorms, stay overnight — really get to know the place and to get to know all of you.”

As a new president, Cervelli said she feels like a freshman and hopes to become a part of the incoming class of 2020.

“I have many of the same feelings as a freshman,” she said. “I’m coming from a previous experience kind of like a senior in high school. I’m very confident in my former position, and I knew what I was doing, but now I’m in new territory. I have many of the same emotions and anxiousness about learning a new place. Am I going to fit in? Am I not going to flunk out? How do I learn the territory and the expectations?”

To gain fully the Saint Mary’s experience, Cervelli plans on going through orientation with the incoming class.

“I want the first years to know that they’re not alone,” she said. “The best way I can learn … is to actually walk the walk. I am putting into place some opportunities where I can interact with the freshman class informally, to talk about what they’re experiencing, what it’s like, what are their concerns, and what is working.”

Cervelli said her goal is to give students the opportunity to speak with her informally so she can better understand what students are thinking about their experiences.

“You don’t know until you walk the walk,” she said. “I could hear reports, and I could try to guess, and, sitting in this office, I could have a picture, but it may not be what the real deal is. So then I can say — because I didn’t go to Saint Mary’s — that I know what it’s like. I’ve walked that walk as much as I can.”

Cervelli’s goals for her presidency are twofold. She said she wants to preserve the “special nature” of Saint Mary’s, and to blend liberal arts and career-focused education.

“I believe strongly that in today’s world, the world needs Saint Mary’s College more and more,” she said.“I say that around all women’s education and Catholic education. I think there’s a value added to being here at Saint Mary’s beyond other institutions. The spiritual dimension that one gains here brings a depth of an education that you don’t get elsewhere.”

Cervelli said she wants to combine the liberal arts education with the need for a career-based education to accommodate the changing world and the demand for higher education.

“Someone can come to Saint Mary’s College and have the strength of the critical thinking skills and the creativity one gets out of the liberal arts and sciences, but then can complement that with a really strong career base,” she said. “Having both of those is really going to propel someone for a lifetime.”

Additionally, Cervelli plans to increase the effort for sustainability. She said she hopes to increase recycling, reduce pesticides, source more locally grown foods and create more bike paths on campus.

“I ultimately see where a student can come study environmental sustainability and the potential for environmental sciences to connect to the business degrees,” she said. “How can you make environmental sustainability profitable? We’re seeing that in different parts of the country, but Saint Mary’s students can be leaders in that respect.”

Cervelli said because sustainability efforts can positively impact the health of community members, and considering the College’s long tradition with health sciences and particularly nursing, incorporating sustainability into the Saint Mary’s curriculum is the natural course.

The school plans to expand its graduate program opportunities in the coming years, according to Cervelli. She said the world has demonstrated a need for more people in the health sciences fields and the environmental studies fields, and she plans to include more opportunities in those fields for Saint Mary’s women.

“We’ll be launching a new strategic planning process where we look at what are those areas we are already really strong at that could launch additional opportunities,” she said.

Cervelli also plans to focus on international education. Studying abroad and being exposed to international experiences will better equip students for life after college, Cervelli said.

“With the Sisters [of the Holy Cross] missions across the world, there’s opportunity to increase and deepen the experience,” she said. “We’re very fortunate in that over half of our students have an international experience prior to graduation. We want to increase those numbers, and also increase the time students are spending abroad, and increase the depth of the experience.”

College President Emeritus Carol Ann Mooney created a task force during the 2015-2016 school year to evaluate the College’s processes and responses to issues regarding sexual assault. The task force published a report at the end of the year outlining a number of recommendations, all of which will be implemented in the coming years, Cervelli said.

“What you’re going to see is an increased effort to provide information on the campus about what happens if an incident occurs, how do you report, how do you gain help from that,” she said. “There will also be a lot of activities around how to prevent.

“That’s really where we need to be, the prevention dimension of this. BAVO [Belles Against Violence Office] has done great work, and we will be looking for their leadership continuously. We’re also looking to have our Title IX coordinator in a very objective position, to serve as the best advocate for students that have complaints. So that has been moved to the director of [Human Resources].”

Cervelli said University President Fr. John Jenkins is planning on working closely with her to address the issue of sexual assault on both campuses.

“We could create some kind of a coalition where we share our best practices,” she said. “My goal is to be a leader in the country, as is Fr. Jenkins’. We should be leaders.

“My commitment is 100 percent. I have no tolerance. Saint Mary’s will not have tolerance of this kind of behavior and we’re going to do whatever we possible can to address the issues.”

To help her talk to the Saint Mary’s community and have a sense of what she needs to do as president, Cervelli said she is launching a “listening tour,” a series of formal and informal events and interactions with the Saint Mary’s community in which she will seek insight into the state of the College from different perspectives.

“It is my objective to meet as many people as possible, go to as many different venues, to listen to what people have to say about Saint Mary’s, what they think of it today, what does it mean to them, how has it changed their lives, what works really well, what could we be doing better,” she said. “I’ve learned a great deal by asking more questions than I’ve been talking, so I want to continue that through the year. I want to share what I’m hearing.”

Cervelli said the people at Saint Mary’s have already made her experience as president great.

“I’ve been part of many campuses,” she said. “Great places, great scholars and teachers, but I have never been in a place where there has been more deep commitment to the missions of the institution, without comparison. People here believe in the mission of Saint Mary’s. They believe in the charism of the Sisters. … They believe in women’s education. They don’t just say they do. They live it. And it’s infectious.

“The reason I’m here, the reason I just couldn’t resist coming here is the people.”

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About Nicole Caratas

Nicole is a senior English Writing and Humanistic Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. Now a senior news writer, she previously served as the Saint Mary's Editor. She was born in real Chicago but grew up in the suburbs, and she currently lives in Opus Hall.

Contact Nicole