Jeremy Schenk selected as new executive director of Norris

Kelli Nguyen, Assistant Campus Editor

For Jeremy Schenk, an Illinois native and graduate of Illinois State University, coming to Northwestern will bring him closer to home. And as the new executive director of Norris University Center, Schenk said he hopes to create a home for students on campus.

“Some people describe the union as the living room,” said Schenk, the current director of the University Commons and Activities at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Some people describe it as the dining room. I had a friend who described it as the kitchen. Whatever you call it, it’s that space on campus where people can come together and think and reflect and react. (It’s) really something that they can have a shared experience with.”

Schenk will become the executive director of Norris effective May 9. In his position, he will work to help run the University center as well as take a strategic leadership role in heading the entire University center operation, said Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, associate vice president for student affairs. She added that he will play a key role in the University’s development of the new University Commons.

Schenk said in his current role at VCU, his main goal is to provide an inclusive and welcoming space for students to build a community, a mission he plans to continue at NU. He said his own college experience with student unions influenced his passion.

“When I was in college, you had your traditional classroom space but then it was the space outside of the classroom where I really connected with people,” Schenk said. “When you look at those spaces, that’s where we see personal growth.”

Schenk is a leader in the field of student unions and student centers, Payne-Kirchmeier said. He was a board member for the Association of College Unions International and his work for the group earned him the ACUI Presidential Award for Distinguished Service.

“He brings that experience that we will benefit from greatly when it comes to leadership of a … university center,” Payne-Kirchmeier said.

At VCU, Schenk oversees three student centers, managed 15 renovation projects at VCU and helped the department establish its mission, values and goals, according to the email announcing his hire.

“Jeremy is experienced,” said Amy White, director of Norris. “He is committed to student success and community building through college unions. He has great experience in student involvement out of the classroom as well as facilities renovation and management.”

Norris’ executive director position has been vacant since July, when former executive director Kelly Schaefer left the position to become vice president of engagement and student affairs. For the past eight months, White has absorbed the role into her own, Payne-Kirchmeier said.

Schenk was selected to fill the position in the University’s second search for a new executive director. After the first search fell flat, the search committee enlisted the help of a search firm to find a new executive director.

“What stood out about Jeremy was his strategic and visionary leadership style,” Payne-Kirchmeier said. “He has created long-running plans for university centers through his career. He also is very well known in his professional association so when it comes to best proven practices and the latest information about university centers in general, he has that.”

Schenk will visit NU twice before he begins his new role. As with his previous visits, Schenk hopes to speak with members of the Northwestern community to learn more about the campus and better prepare himself for the position, he said.

“It’s an exciting time for the campus in general just to start having those conversations about providing space that really helps build community,” Schenk said. “My hope would be that after the end of my first year in Norris … we’ve made advancements where we’re providing a space where all students feel welcomed and accepted.”

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