New VP for Student Affairs listening, learning, setting priorities
a) NIU had a good football team, as his former employer, Florida State University, faced the Huskies in the Orange Bowl, and b) he would be managing a transition that would push the university forward while honoring its past.
So what has the Peoria native done in his first month officially on the job? Plenty. First on the list was learning about his team and setting goals for not only the division but also individual departments.
And Weldy wasn’t the only one learning.
He asked his executive leadership team and directors to read a book by William Bridges, titled “Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change.” The book emphasizes the importance of, as Weldy says, “honoring our past as we move forward.”
“My first approach is to become familiar with the staff and division as a whole,” Weldy says. “I met with my entire staff all together and in individual, one-on-one meetings, and I learned about their individual job responsibilities as well as personnel needs and resources needed to make improvements.”
In those meetings, Weldy learned about both the challenges and strengths of the division. Out of those strengths and opportunities, his goal is to finalize a list of priorities for the division moving forward.
Moving forward was the purpose of an all-day divisional retreat July 25. Being away from the office gave the team a chance to focus on finalizing the priorities of the division.
Not surprisingly, the foci strongly resembles President Douglas Baker’s institutional priorities. They include:
- Learning the key issues for students by establishing relationships and having regular contact with student leaders.
- Cultivating and expanding upon relationships with alumni throughout the division instead of only relying on the traditional relationships developed by Career Services in terms of job placement, internships and student mentoring; and
- Aligning the organizational structure to institutional priorities to run efficiently as a division with resources directed to where they will have the greatest impact.
“We need to continue to establish relationships that are important to continue our mission as student-centered institution,” Weldy says. “Students are our top priority.”
This is nothing new for Weldy, who has advocated for student success at each stop in his career.
He says during the past four weeks and during the hiring process, he met many students, both current and incoming. “I’ve been very impressed,” he says. “Our students do a great job of talking about what is important to them and what they want to get out of their time at Northern.”
The biggest adjustment for him has been, as he says, “learning how the university operates in terms of finance, funding sources, personnel and hiring.”
Still, Weldy has been quick to shore up the division, making decisions to fill vacant positions and also transitioning several personnel from “acting” roles to permanent positions.
At a Student Affairs and Enrollment Management executive cabinet retreat several weeks ago, his leadership team closely examined Illinois’ concealed carry law, what similar provisions across the country have meant and the impact of the Illinois statute on university operations.
“It’s important that my staff is familiar with concealed carry history throughout the country and in Illinois as we work out details of our own protocols,” he says.
Still, with an aggressive Vision 2020 goal in terms of enrollment, Weldy sees growing the NIU student base as a top priority.
“We’re going to be bringing in consultants from Noel Levitz over the next couple of months to look at everything. They will look at the total picture of what it means to be an NIU student as well as competition in the regional and national landscape. I am confident there are things we can do in terms of scholarships, financial aid packages and undergraduate and graduate admissions,” he says.
“It’s a whole new ballgame out there,” he adds. “Today’s competition is a lot tougher than it was years ago. There are many more competitors, for-profits and online schools as well. To remain competitive, you really have to take a strategic approach. We’ve got to be able to tell prospective students who we are. How do we tell our story?”
Enrollment management is everyone’s responsibility, Weldy says.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. I would really like to see us be a key player in bringing the university together to collaborate to make the students’ experience a positive one and an enriching experience,” he says. “We’re going to do everything that we can to ensure our students are successful.”