New Norris executive director gets to work in planning out student center changes

Kelly Schaefer, was just appointed the new executive director of Norris. She will replace the interim director, Amy White, on January 28.

Courtesy of Kelly Schaefer

Kelly Schaefer, was just appointed the new executive director of Norris. She will replace the interim director, Amy White, on January 28.

Jillian Sandler, Campus Editor

Kelly Schaefer, the incoming executive director of Norris University Center, is already at work, just one day after her new position was announced to the Northwestern community.

She started Wednesday at a design charrette for a new or renovated student center.

Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, vice president for student auxiliary services, said consultants presented four concepts, two of which were renovations at the same site as the current building and two of which were new buildings at different sites. The meeting was part of the process of conducting a needs assessment on Norris, which Payne-Kirchmeier said should be completed in March. Schaefer, who will officially assume her position Jan. 28, will be an integral part of leading the evolution of Norris, Payne-Kirchmeier said.

Payne-Kirchmeier announced Schaefer’s appointment in an email Tuesday.

Schaefer has been serving as the director of campus and conference centers at the Illinois Institute of Technology for the past 7 years. She previously served as the assistant director for Student Centers at DePaul University and director of housing/assistant director of Student Services at the Illinois Institute of Art.

Schaefer said the position at NU appealed to her because Norris falls under the administrative umbrella of student affairs, whereas many other student centers are run by the business and administrative sectors of universities. She said this positioning of Norris within the University structure along with the fact that her colleagues are primarily in the student affairs department align with her desire to emphasize the student experience.

“That’s the priority Northwestern has and that’s the one I have as well,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer succeeds former Norris executive director Rick Thomas, who left his post last summer for another position at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She was chosen for the position from a pool of three people who came to campus for the interviewing process, which included meeting with students, faculty, administrators in the division of Student Affairs and representatives from Sodexo. Finalists for the position were chosen from a pool generated through a search firm’s online application program, Payne-Kirchmeier said.

Payne-Kirchmeier said Schaefer stood out as an applicant due to her “innovative” ways of looking at issues. This quality, along with Schaefer’s awareness of the issues facing student centers, was especially relevant as Norris starts undergoing change, she said.

“She gets things to happen, she takes initiative and she works beautifully with people all across campus,” Payne-Kirchmeier said.

Schaefer said she wants to evaluate student needs regarding Norris and obtain a better sense of how the work will be funded before deciding what aspects of the building need change. One of her current goals, she said, is to generate more “traffic” of students and other members of the NU community within Norris. She said she hopes to make the center akin to a “downtown” area where people can meet and enjoy experiences such as arts and culture and special events.

Ultimately, Schaefer said, she wants to align with Student Affairs’ mission statement to “educate students, engage the community, and enrich the Northwestern experience.”

“I hope to get a great professional experience of course, and I hope the students are able to have a really meaningful experience that contributes to their education,” she said.