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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

Cervelli wraps up first year in office

Saint Mary’s President Jan Cervelli looks back on her first year with fondness.

“It has been one of the most wonderful years of my life,” Cervelli said. “I am doing the most important work of my life.”

Cervelli, a South Bend native, took over as president on June 1.

“I have discovered a community that is unlike any other I’ve been part of, and I say that from a professional, a personal and a faith perspective,” she said. “I have fallen in love with the Belles here. … I’ve never been so inspired by students.”

Cervelli, along with the presidents of Notre Dame and Holy Cross, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which allows for the three institutions to share information regarding sexual assault on all three campuses, she said.

“That’s a very important first step — the Memorandum of Understanding — in establishing a level of cooperation that helps us, one, to provide support to students in the event of an unfortunate act of sexual violence,” she said. “Meaning that we have agreed to share information about incidences to where, if an incidence happens to a Saint Mary’s student on Notre Dame’s campus, we can have better knowledge of what took place and what kind of healthcare, or counseling or pastoral care we can provide much more quickly than in the past.

“It’s really important that we provide the kind of support that encourages students to report incidences. Otherwise, without that information, it is difficult for us to learn better around prevention strategies. … Knowing when and where — sometimes why — we are able to better educate our students.”

Cervelli began a “listening tour” when she first came to the College. As part of that tour, Cervelli has travelled to different events across the country to meet with alumnae and discuss their experiences at Saint Mary’s, she said.

“Their experiences help us weave a picture of what is really special about Saint Mary’s and the Saint Mary’s experience,” she said. “I’ve learned that this is no four-year degree experience. This is Saint Mary’s for life when you come to Saint Mary’s, and the sisterhood is phenomenal. They are there for their sisters unlike anybody I have seen.”

Cervelli, who is passionate about sustainability, said she is in planning mode for expanding sustainability at the College. She said she is working on developing an environmental studies major, which she envisions as an interdisciplinary degree.

Saint Mary’s is already working on expanding its graduate program opportunities, including the early development of a master’s in social work, she said. In addition to graduate programs, Cervelli also said the College’s study abroad options are being improved.

“We’re finding with international studies — with some of the chaos in the world and some of the terrorist activities — we’re having to shift a little bit based on people’s concerns about going to certain places,” she said. “We’re trying to look at where is the best place for students to learn and what is the safest place.”

A group of students proposed a plan for an “Adulting 101” class, which Cervelli said she accepted and will work to implement.

“I think the idea is fantastic,” she said. “What I heard from the students is that we need to help prepare our graduates to enter into the world in general, and colleges and universities overlooked the challenges that graduates face.”

The class will span many topics, including how to set up a financial plan as well as how to negotiate salaries, Cervelli said.

“While one course is the initial goal, these are conversations I’d like to see all the way back to first year when you first come in, because you are negotiating internships well before you graduate,” she said. “Any kind of those experiences, we want to best position our Belles so that we’re like a force.”

Cervelli said she is proud of the political activism that Saint Mary’s students have embraced — both on campus and in South Bend — especially because of the mutual respect that students have for each other, even when disagreeing on issues.

“This has been an extraordinary year to get to know the students, with a lot of the chaos and the divisiveness that came out of the election and political decisions,” she said. “The love of our students for each other, the courage of our students to take on issues of immigration and social justice and to stand up for all Belles, the call for mutual respect and mutual understanding and the demands for civil discourse and wanting to learn how to talk to each other are amazing. As hard as this year has been in many respects, I would not have chosen a different year, because I think it has revealed the real deep character.”

Cervelli said the best part of her first year was her overnight stay in Le Mans Hall.

“It was so meaningful to me in so many ways,” she said. “Just to see students relaxing, and having fun, and kicking back first and just talking about what it’s like living in a dorm. Just having girl talk and talking about dreams and plans and just laughing a little bit together. I did get to see how much women love Le Mans and why. … I was just so warmly received, and it was just great.”

Cervelli said she could not have hoped for a better first year as a “freshman president.”

“I came here for the students, and you guys have just so exceeded anything that I anticipated,” she said.