Heidi St. Peter ’96 named as College’s first director of purposeful learning

New role for a long-beloved campus servant aligns with Strategic Plan's emphasis on purposeful reflection to optimize student-life learning and mentoring

May 4, 2022
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer

“I think this position really came out of re-imagining everything we’ve always been good at here at St. Mike’s,” said Heidi St. Peter ‘96 shortly after the College chose her recently to become its first director of purposeful learning.

Heidi

Heidi St. Peter ’96

St. Peter is living charismatic testimony to those things Saint Michael’s does best — from her undergraduate student days as an English major and ardent volunteer with strong mentors, through her leadership of the MOVE program in Edmundite Campus Ministry, to more recent key roles in academic support and Academic Affairs. Few figures on campus know and love the College and its mission better or connect with more authentic empathy while encouraging students and colleagues to be their best selves.

The new position emerged from recent work on the College’s new Strategic Plan that aims to identify thoughtful ways forward, keeping pace with the present fast-changing higher education universe and the College’s determination to thrive within it.

“We’re at a time in our history where we just had to stop taking things for granted and be a little more intentional about the transformative experience that is St. Mike’s,” St. Peter said,  “so in essence that’s what this position is all about in my mind – repackaging and reimagining all the good basis of our Saint Michael’s education.” To her, that means an education based on “learning in and out of the classroom,” she said. “That’s our whole mission – our enhancement of ourselves as whole people to become our best selves and become instruments of change in our world.”

This dual importance of academics and transformative student life experiences for Saint Michael’s students emerged in a recent announcement to the campus community about St. Peter’s new job – it came jointly from Jeffrey Trumbower, vice president for academic affairs, and Dawn Ellinwood, VP for Student Affairs, since St. Peter will report to both of those leaders in her new role.

“Heidi brings to this new position a most impressive combination of experience in student life, campus ministry, academic affairs and community engagement,” the announcement stated before continuing with highlights from the new appointee’s impressive resume:

‘She holds a B.A. in English and a Graduate Certificate in Theology from Saint Michael’s College, and an M.Ed. from UVM in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration.   She had a yearlong volunteer experience at the Edmundite Missions in Selma, Alabama, and has worked at Champlain College as a part-time academic coach.  At Saint Michael’s she has been a Resident Director, has worked in Alumni and Parent Relations, for nine years was Director of our Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts (M.O.V.E.) program, worked for five years as Assistant Director and then Director of Academic Support Services, and since 2020 she has been Assistant Dean for Advising and Student Development.  In addition, she has served on numerous community non-profit boards, including Mercy Connections, Vermont Interfaith Action, and the Fanny Allen Foundation, among others.”

St. Peter said when she first heard “little musings” among colleagues about the potential for this position “as a real combination of student affairs and academic affairs a as a collaborative force, I thought that sounded really interesting.”

“I started to think about my work experience with students in general,” she said. “It definitely was exciting for me to think about being part of creating a program that to me recreates a program that always has very present here –even if less formally prescribed than what we now envision. It’s a program that has benefited me so much when I was a student and employee here, given all the transformative experiences I’ve had along the way.”

She reeled off a few names among “some brilliant mentors who have asked me some really good questions and offered me some really amazing opportunities for growth” through the years, just as she hopes to do in her new position for current students. She said that going back to her college-student days, those mentors included Jennie Cernosia and Grace Kelly from Student Life, the late Edmundite Fr. Mike Cronogue and Ann Giombetti from MOVE and Sue Kuntz on the faculty. Later when she was an employee, some big influences and supports have included Lou DiMasi in residential life, Patrick Gallivan in admission and alumni, Toni Messuri in student support services “and the Edmundites as a whole” alongside many others.

A formative experience that deeply affected her perspective and sense of the College’s mission was spending a year as a volunteer with Saint Michael’s founding religious order at the Southern Missions in Selma, AL, in 1996-1997.

“I see this new position as providing such guides and mentors and connecting students with them across the campus,” she said, adding that the College’s new “success advisers” with whom she will work closely “will be excellent touchpoints since their job is to connect students with amazing mentors across campus, and I think I am a good connector.”

Jeff T

Jeff Trumbower, VP for academic affairs.

St. Peter is excited for the freedom from Trumbower and Ellinwood to create and shape this new position as she goes along. Imaging what a typical day might be like, she said, “I hope to be around campus, going to meetings, collaborating on different programs and initiatives, just kind of bring a presence in different areas.”

Dawn

Dawn Ellinwood, VP for Student Affairs

“I feel it’s not just me creating the role, but he whole campus community,” she said. “I think as I ask questions, I will get a better sense of what people think we need. I really see this as a collaborative vision – we’re going to need voices from all over campus, from staff and faculty, and maybe from some who don’t always have roles that involve speaking up a lot, about how we can collaborate and serve students in the best way possible,” she said.

St. Peter said the recent pandemic years re-emphasized to her and many others “the importance of presence” in the college experience. While technology was and remains vital and is an amazing tool through such unprecedented times, “it showed the importance of being present to one another in person – you just can’t overestimate that,” she said.

“For this generation, COVID kind of stole a lot of their developmental opportunities to think how and what they want college to be,” said St. Peter, who hopes to formalize the opportunity for students to have regular opportunities for personal reflection. “In our Catholic heritage there’s that whole idea of action and reflection,” she said. “If we can promote that practice of action and contemplation/reflection, that’s important – helping people to find what they enjoy and can give back to the world, to find who they are and discover who they want to be.”

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