When new students arrive at UNW's front gate for Orientation Week, they're greeted by the smiles and cheers of student leaders decked in all manner of purple and gold. Minutes later, cars are unloaded and dorm rooms filled by student Ministry Partners and RAs who, later that evening, will join the Student Life staff in singing a song of blessing over the new students and their families. In this Q&A, Jerod Cornelius, leader of these servant teams, talks about his love for students and the many ways he and his staff help students feel at home, build lasting friendships, and thrive during their time at Northwestern.
What is your position at Northwestern?
I am the Dean of Students. This role is new for me—I started in March of this year—but many of the responsibilities overlap with my former position as Dean of Community Life.
How long have you been at Northwestern?
This is the start of my 18thyear. I began working at Northwestern in the summer of 2002 as a Resident Director. I was an RD for five years, living right on campus. I was single the first year and then got married between my first and second years. The residence hall was our home for our first four years of marriage. We loved it!
We're here because we love students.
Though I enjoy what I am doing right now, being an RD may end up being my favorite role, as RDs have the chance to do life alongside college students in such a unique way. There is something powerful about proximity that allows for a greater depth of relationships with students.
What brought you to UNW?
I was involved in a number of different leadership positions as a student at Taylor University, a college similar to Northwestern. I was a resident assistant and was class president my senior year.
I really enjoyed those roles; they piqued my interest in what it would be like to serve on the other side. The deans and resident directors that oversaw the programs I was a part of were hugely impactful in my life.
Advice for New Students: "Take this opportunity to engage in all of what college has to offer. Look for places where you can make connections with other students, whether that be around interest areas, in sports, theatre, music, or in the residence halls. Be intentional about stepping out. You’ll really reap the benefits." —Jerod Cornelius, Dean of Students
What does your role as Dean of Students entail?
The areas that fall under my area of oversight include:
- Residence Life
- Commuter Life
- Student Engagement
Student Engagement includes student activities, student clubs, and Global & Local Engagement.
I am part of a team that oversees Student Leadership Development. I also advise Student Government.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
For me, the most rewarding aspect of my job is the opportunity to work with students. One exciting change that came with my new role was becoming the advisor for Student Government. Being able to work directly with students and student leaders has been really life giving.
Students arrive on campus next week! What is your team’s role in Orientation Week?
You’ll see our highly energetic Student Government, Student Activities, and Global & Local Engagement teams at the front gate welcoming students and their families when they arrive on campus Friday morning. Resident Assistants, Ministry Partners, fall sports teams, and other student leaders will also welcome families and help students move into the dorms.
We’ll be a part of the Welcome Session on Friday to welcome new students and families to Northwestern. And members of our team will be around campus as resource and “go-to” people to guide students as they get acclimated to Northwestern.
On Friday evening our Orientation Groups meet with students, and the Commuter Assistants, RAs, and Ministry Partners host after-dinner student events. A memorable part of the evening will be going out onto Reynolds Field for a photo of the incoming class followed by an ice cream social.
On Saturday morning we host the Student Life session. That’s when we share what we want our students to understand about community here at UNW and how we want to relate to one another. Some of our student leaders will share their personal testimony and experience with communities, friends, and mentors on campus.
There are additional socials through the weekend for students to connect with one another, including a really impactful time of worship on Sunday evening led by Heart of the City Band.
On Tuesday we'll have an Involvements Fair, followed by a Student Clubs and Activities Fair a few weeks into the semester to showcase the more than 40 clubs and activities on campus. We want students to see how their interests align with the programming we have, and to get plugged in!
Our goal for Orientation Week—and throughout the school year—is to foster the development of relationships and community. We tell students that we’ll provide the resources, but they need to engage during orientation and beyond: they’ll get out of it what they put into it.
What would you say is your favorite part of Orientation Week?
The energy that comes when students and families first arrive onto campus and seeing families check in and go through the process of moving in. It’s fun to watch the athletes and student leaders help them move in and to see the dorms come alive and bustle again.
Another longstanding tradition we have during the Welcome Session is called the “Blessing Song.” All of the student leaders and Student Life staff walk into the aisles of Knight Performance Hall and surround the students and families seated there to sing a blessing over them. It’s a tangible example of inviting God into that process. This is the heart of who we are at Northwestern. We truly want to be Christ-centered and love others well.
You’ve been at UNW for almost 20 years. What have you enjoyed most about working here?
You hear this mentioned often, and it’s true: the community that is here. Professors take extra time to engage with students and are committed to their whole-person development.
There are many others around campus looking to serve students well: student employers, resident directors, advisors, coaches, theater directors, staff, and faculty. We’re here because we love to work with students and want to invest deeply in them.
Unique to UNW, by and large the students that attend UNW are pretty serious about faith and their faith development. Being able to work with students as they are figuring things out is such a gift. You can share life and your own journey with the students—learning a lot from them and being challenged by them!
What advice would you give students as they begin college?
Take this opportunity to engage in all of what college has to offer. Look for places where you can make connections with other students.
Be intentional about stepping out. You’ll really reap the benefits.
And I really encourage students to stay here over the weekends—for at least the first month or two of the school year—and during the week. Be present! If you’re not here, you’ll miss out on opportunities to make connections.
Encouragement for Parents: "Be overly intentional in letting your child know how you feel about them. Tell them you’re proud of them. Tell them you love them. Don’t shy away and hold back from that even during your goodbye so that the students have the sense that you’re still with them and you’re in this together."
What encouragement would you give to parents?
Be overly intentional in letting your child know how you feel about them. Tell them you’re proud of them. Tell them you love them. Don’t shy away and hold back from that even during your goodbye so that the students have the sense that you’re still with them and you’re in this together. Those things stand out at any transitional season.
There’s a balance. You want your child to begin to establish more of their independence and develop their own support system. At the same time, Northwestern is not replacing your family and your role in your student’s life. It’s still important for you to be involved, but let your child initiate a little more than they have in the past.
And know that you’re leaving your child at a place where those of us that are there to guide, advise, and walk alongside your child are committed to the Lord and committed to doing what’s best for them.