Making Quinnipiac his home

Quinnipiac’s first chief experience officer is eager to learn more about living on campus

Emily DiSalvo, Arts and Life Editor

Quinnipiac University’s first chief experience officer, Tom Ellett, is no stranger to college campuses.

Ellett has spent his professional career doing similar work at other colleges like Utica College, Catholic University of America, Syracuse University and most recently, New York University (NYU). Ellett fills a new role, which involves overseeing all non-academic and non-curricular matters. Previously, the role was combined with the provost.

Photo by Autumn Driscoll

“I really wanted to get back to a residential campus where a majority of life is on the campus,” Ellett said. “I had been to Quinnipiac a few years ago for a conference and always fell in love with the picturesque campus.”

Ellett returned to the campus, craving its “warm feel,” in hopes of attending a school small enough to make connections with the students.

“Where I came from, you might run into the same student once or twice a semester because we didn’t have a student center, we didn’t have a quad,” Ellett said. “It was just a different kind of urban setting.”

Thornton Lockwood, program director of the First Year Seminar (FYS) Program said he is hoping that Ellett can help connect the academic and residential aspects of Quinnipiac.

“I think faculty recognize that students learn both inside and outside the classroom,” Lockwood said. “I think Tom can especially help us with the latter. He has had amazing experiences at NYU about making NYC a part of NYU students’ classroom. I think there are amazing opportunities for him to do something like that at QU also.”

While campus life in the COVID-19 era has a different atmosphere than in years past, Ellett hopes he can still focus on enhancing the student experience in a safe way. His goal this year and in future years is to create a non-academic environment that aids the academic environment.

“How can we make it supportive and conducive to the complementing academics that happen here and making sure that the out of classroom experience is just as rich as the rest?” Ellett said.

One of his first priorities is helping to plan the new health and wellness facility.

“How can we look at wellness in a holistic manner — but from an emotional, psychological, physical, spiritual way in terms of wellness?” Ellett said.

Ellett calls his second goal, “operational efficiency,” which means to make the administrative side of Quinnipiac more accessible to students.

“I am in the early stages of creating a one-stop operation,” Ellett said. “It is where students would go either (online) or in person to a place to have a question answered — about a bill, about registration, about their housing assignment, their Q-card not working — rather than having to move from one office to another.”

The residence halls are a particular focus of Ellett’s. In his first few weeks at Quinnipiac, he has been walking the Quad and the residential areas armed with a mask and some cookies.

“I have tried to do quick engagements with students,” Ellett said. “Walking around the first Friday students were here, myself and a number of staff stood on the quad and gave over 250 cookies out.”

At his past jobs on college campuses, Ellett has often opted to live in a residence hall so he can fully embrace the student experience. He and his wife, who also works in colleges, raised their kids in residence halls.

“It’s something that gives you great knowledge of the institution,” Ellett said.

Ellett has no plans of living in a Quinnipiac residence hall yet, but he said he would consider it down the road.

In the immediate future, he is working to connect faculty to campus life outside of the classroom. He has seen various models of Living Learning Communities (LLCs) that involve the faculty members who specialize in the same interest area as the LLC.

“That’s why I think it is so important for me to immerse myself in the community so I can propose something that will make sense here,” Ellett said.

He hopes to create an advisory group of faculty, staff and students to consider the residential experience.

“You can’t take the same model and put it at any institution — it has to fit,” Ellett said.

At NYU, Ellett was criticized by Resident Assistants (RAs) who said he failed to address concerns about mental health training.

The NYU student newspaper, Washington Square News, covered a town hall in which Ellett failed to take any questions on a 40-page manifesto circulated by RAs complaining about “mental health, compensation, unionization and general mistreatment in the role,” according to an article in the NYU student-run newspaper from May 2020.

Ellett is working with professors Lockwood and Glenda Pritchett, of the first year writing program, about how to have “Pods on the Quad” programming that will invite faculty out on to the quad to engage with students. This event will be held on Sept. 13, with FYS faculty and first-year students.

“I think all of us are longing for the kinds of connections that naturally occur with the opening of a new school year and are of course more difficult this year,” Pritchett said. “Tom is intent on creating opportunities for students and faculty to engage in conversations and create relationships outside the classroom, thereby enhancing students’ sense of fully belonging to the Quinnipiac community.”

On top of “Pods on the Quad” Ellett sent an email to faculty hoping to recruit a group of them to walk around some evenings from 9-11 p.m. to monitor social distancing in residential areas.

“Our presence on campus and engagement with students will also help illustrate our community-wide support of physical distancing and mask wearing protocols we are all observing,” Ellett wrote in the email. “The only expectation is for you to loop the campus a few times and engage in some friendly conversation.”

Ellett encourages returning students to email him at [email protected] with a SWOT analysis on Quinnipiac. This means he wants to know strengths, weaknesses, areas for opportunity and threats, like COVID-19

“It’s more about what is the strength of the community here and what they think is missing,” Ellett said. “What are the opportunities on this beautiful campus?”