With the retirement of Ed Spencer over the summer, the school year starts with a new vice president of student affairs. Patricia Perillo, the successor of the "students' vice president" hails most recently from Davidson College, a small private institution in North Carolina.
Perillo sat down with the Collegiate Times to discuss everything from her personal interests to her beliefs in what makes a university successful.
CT: So, when you started learning about the Vice President of Student Affairs position, what really intrigued you and kept you interested?
I just connected with the people; I could tell there was a sense of community, a sense of care, a sense of connectedness.
There were so many things I read about Tech, it made me feel like it was the place that I fit. I'm one of eight kids, and so I know what community can do for you.
Things like the principles of community really resonate with my values as an educator. The aspirations for student learning as defined by the division of student affairs — if I were to define them myself, they are probably the same five that I would pick and I didn't even help form those ideas.
And last, the university's strategic plan. While I wasn't at the beginning at the process, I came at a time where I could help the vision of the next chapter of this institution's life.
CT: Is that sense of community that you mentioned anything like what you found at Davidson?
One of things I loved about Davidson — 1,800 students makes a great possibility to foster community. I never imagined I would find a large public university with this kind of community. The sense of community makes it feel a small place even though it's pretty big.
CT: So when did you get to Blacksburg and begin your transition?
When Provost (Mark) McNamee and I began talking, we agreed that I could work 10 days before my official start date of August 1. I really felt like I hit the ground running.
What I can do best right now is listening and learning about what's happening in this great
It doesn't serve any good leader well to just come in and have their own agenda and make changes just
I've had more than 30 one-on-one meetings with peers, supervisors, and direct reports in other departments on campus to really try to listen and learn, and to build
CT: Did you get a chance to pick Ed Spencer's brain before you came on board? Are you going to continue his “VP is In” tradition with the student
(SGA leaders) actually suggested I reconsider the program. They said I could come anytime to meet with them, but what we wanted to do together was find ways to get the people who aren't involved directly with the SGA involved and hear their voice.
So what we decided to do was have an occasional lunch or
Say we want to better understand the first year experience here. We decided we would randomly reach out to about twenty students who fit that background, to get outside of the usual suspects. We really want to understand student's experiences.
CT: So it seems student affairs, for you, is a lot about student development?
Young people are so concerned about inclusiveness and feeling belonging, and sometimes they can't discern between what their voice is and what is the voice of
We want to get our students to a place where they can develop that capacity within themselves to author their own lives. It can take a while to get there, but it is certainly about the continuum of
CT: What role do you think student affairs plays in creating a sense of community, and how does that sense of belonging affect a higher rate of
First of all, the retention rate at our university is extremely high. I believe that a lot of that is about this notion of community. Community is a way in which we feel like we belong.
How does student affairs play a part of that? In so many ways. Students will spend about 80 hours a week in student affairs — they are in McComas, the residence hall, the Oak Lane community, the dining
Talk about an opportunity to affect community and make them feel a sense of belonging.
I think we play an extraordinary role because we meet them in their natural environments.
CT: Coolest "I'm at Virginia Tech" moment thus far?
I started at 5:30 this morning with the new cadets. I sat on War Memorial, the clouds were sitting on the drill field, and I walked down and met some of them, and walked alongside them.
And then I came back up to the pylons, and just watched the sunrise while these 500 first-year students were going through this extraordinary transition in placing their life in this new community they are now a part
CT: If there was a collection of things that you wanted students to know about you, what would you share?