Staff gathers to hear University updates, learn about student experience at Spring Town Hall


Dahnke Ballroom filled with staff members for the 2024 Spring Staff Town Hall meeting.

University leaders presented to packed houses at the 45-minute Spring Staff Town Hall sessions held Tuesday, March 19, and Wednesday, March 20, with more than 1,700 staff members in attendance over two days. The sessions began with Executive Vice President Shannon Cullinan providing University updates, followed by news from Vice President for Human Resources Heather Christophersen, who also served as the emcee. The event then moved into a panel discussion featuring three employees who lead well-being and support initiatives for our undergraduate students and a brief address from senior Joy Agwu.

Cullinan gave staff members an overview of the University Strategic Framework, under which new initiatives have been announced: ethics, poverty and democracy. Work is already underway within the new Health and Well-being Initiative as well, including a large investment to address the gap in mental health research and services in our community and across the nation. In January, the University announced a gift made to establish the Wilma and Peter Veldman Family Psychology Clinic, marking a significant expansion in the quality and availability of mental health care in the South Bend area.

Other updates included plans to relocate Holy Cross Drive, the construction of two new residence halls on South Quad to replace the outgoing Fisher and Pangborn Halls, a new geothermal plant under construction near the Joyce Center, and the presidential transition. Staff will be invited to join Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., on Wednesday, May 15, for a thank-you reception in Main Building before Rev. Robert A. Dowd, C.S.C., assumes the role of president June 1.

Christophersen moderated a panel discussion about student well-being. Assistant Vice President of Undergraduate Education Erin Klawitter was joined by Margaret Morgan, director of the Center for Student Support and Care, and Eric T. Styles, rector of Carroll Hall. When asked to describe Notre Dame students in one word, panelists responded with ambitious, creative and resilient. Each staff member shared how they interact with students and some of the unique challenges faced by this generation.

“This is the first generation [of students] who don’t need an adult for the answer — they have Google and TikTok — but they need help sorting things out and discerning what to do,” Morgan shared during the discussion.

Styles underscored the important role of a non-parent adult in every young person’s life, relating that sentiment especially to the unique challenges presented by the COVID pandemic.

“It was the hardest thing I’d ever done,” Styles commented, adding intently that bringing students back to campus was the right thing to do. “I believe that they are deeply benefited by the fact that we did it,” he said.

Klawitter thanked staff members, explaining her belief that everyone who works at our University contributes to an environment that fosters student flourishing. "Although some of [the work of our staff] might not be visible to all of our students, there are tens of thousands of things happening every day that make this a beautiful place to learn and grow,” Klawitter said.

The program concluded with a speech from senior student Joy Agwu. A resident of Pasquerilla West, Agwu is a Hesburgh Democracy Fellow and Sorin Scholar double majoring in English and philosophy with a minor in constitutional studies. She described Notre Dame as a “perfect fit” in all the ways that matter, but admitted to challenges moving to campus in fall 2020 under COVID protocol. She credits her rector for making her feel seen and connecting her with the friend group that remains close-knit to this day.

Following her graduation this spring, Agwu will enroll in the Alliance for Catholic Education teaching program and teach middle school social studies in Kentucky. After completing the two-year program, she hopes to attend law school and pursue a career in education policy.

A video recording of the full Spring Staff Town Hall is available on the executive vice president’s website.