By: Layla Kellogg
Bellarmine University Dr. President Susan M. Donovan is making efforts to be active on campus and discover the university from a new perspective: the students’.
In an effort to hear from students directly, Donovan formed the Bellarmine Society, which held its first meeting in January.
“Our mission is to serve as a liaison to Dr. Donovan, to tell her what’s going on with the students on campus and what we would like to see changed within the campus community,” said Lilly Pinhas, Bellarmine Society member.
Braden Hall, another member, said during the group’s first meeting, students prepared a pages-long list of topics to bring to Donovan’s attention. Issues raised ranged from environmental and security concerns, first-year advising processes, campus food options, Freshman Focus classes and general improvements to campus life.
“I think Bellarmine offers a unique opportunity for students to see what a transparent administration looks like,” Hall said. “It’s not every day that the president of a university walks around campus to talk and hear what students have to say.”
Donovan said the goal of the Society is to be an advisory group of seniors who have had a lot of experiences on campus and are able to advise her.
“I can seek consultation and they can raise issues with me,” Donovan said. “I tried to get a representative of as many groups as we could in terms of athletics, students of color, LGBTQ, a broad spectrum of students.”
Donovan formed a similar group as dean of students at Loyola University Maryland.
“I found as dean of students that sometimes when (students) had the attention of the president, it wasn’t always quality interactions,” Donovan said.
Taryn Wilhelm, a Society member, said the time to speak with the president directly is valuable because Donovan has so many other duties but still takes the time to meet with students.
“It’s a really special experience to have a president that cares so much about their students, that’s willing to get student feedback and input,” Wilhelm said. “It’s something that shows that she’s trying to make a difference here at Bellarmine.”
In a further effort to connect with students on campus, Donovan invited several sophomores for lunch in the private dining room of the University Dining Hall at the end of the Fall 2017 semester.
Sabrina Fussenegger a Bellarmine sophomore who attended the lunch, said she and other sophomores discussed possible reasons why the class of 2020 had a lower retention rate than past classes, mentioning ways to get all students, especially commuters, more involved.
“(President Donovan) took the time out of her schedule to really dive into the heart of the problem by making sure we felt included in the process of making Bellarmine a better place for the sophomore class,” Fussenegger said.
Donovan said these groups help give a student perspective about strengths, weaknesses and opportunities at Bellarmine. She stressed the importance of asking students directly about their opinions of campus events and issues and what can be done differently in the future.
“I don’t think I can just assume what students are thinking,” Donovan said. “But certainly as we assess things going forward, we want to ensure that we’re improving and that we’re responsive to student desires as well.”
Some future initiatives that have been discussed include: adding more night time and weekend hangout spaces on campus, assessing the quality of the majors offered, building apartments for more housing options, expanding internship opportunities beyond the Louisville area and reaching out to more students outside Kentucky.
“You realize just how personal (President Donovan) is and how much she cares about Bellarmine and really wants us to succeed, even though she got here less than a year ago,” Pinhas said.
The Bellarmine Society will have scheduled meetings once a month.
Although current members were selected by faculty nomination, in the future, Society members will nominate new members. Student Affairs and other departments also may nominate senior students for consideration.
Donovan said there will likely be five large initiatives to improve Bellarmine University moving forward, but no plans are final at the time.
“It needs to be a shared vision,” Donovan said. “We need to come to that together. I have some ideas, but I want to see what comes up from these discussions.”