President-hosted events unite staff, students

In organizations as complex as universities, facilitating communication between all branches is a monumental task. Virginia Wesleyan makes deliberate efforts to bridge gaps between all sections of the community.

Between Chat & Chew staff lunches, faculty dinners and meals with VWU students, president-hosted events set a framework for communication across campus.

President Miller’s Nota Bene from Nov. 21 said, “These [Chat & Chew] lunches are an opportunity for staff members to connect with me and each other, opening doors for collaboration and fellowship.“

This semester, President Miller has held two Chat & Chew lunches. Both took place in the Princess Anne Room off of the Boyd Dining Hall, rather than the previous location of the DeFord Manor.

Chief of Staff Kelly Cordova said, “I’ve been involved in the planning of nearly every event that has been held at DeFord Manor since it opened in March. That’s 62 events with around 1,230 guests.”

“I value and welcome any opportunity to interact with my colleagues socially. So much of business is about relationships, and relationships are forged by spending time together and finding common interests and shared values,” Cordova said.

Ask Virginia Wesleyan students whether they have been in the DeFord Manor for themselves and the majority will answer “no.” However, while most events at the DeFord Manor are aimed toward faculty, staff, donors, parents, alumni and external partners, the DeFord Manor does grant students entry for special occasions.

Last month, sophomore Jessica Wilson had dinner with Jane P. Batten, President Miller and Dr. Travis Malone. The Batten name is one that echoes across Virginia Wesleyan due to her involvement in the institution’s development.

“I was at the Manor to have dinner with Jane Batten because she wanted to hear a student perspective on what being in the [Batten] Honors College is like.”

“We chatted on the sofa and then had dinner, where she asked what brought me to VWU and what I was involved with. She was very interested and cared about what I had to say,” Wilson said.

Wilson said she is appreciative of the Manor being used to celebrate students and hopes to see that continue in the future. “It shows how connected we are, being a small campus,” she said.

Cordova said she knows how much President and Mrs. Miller enjoy the opportunity to honor the accomplishments of students. In the DeFord Manor, “They’ve hosted the 2021 ODAC Championship Women’s Soccer team, the 2022 ODAC Championship Softball team, SGA leaders, Batten Honors College students, a special discussion group on philosophy and faith and more,” Cordova said.

Mandy Reinig, the director of Global Engagement, said that President Miller also hosted VWU’s new international students for a breakfast at the beginning of the semester.

This was not her first time at the Manor, as Reinig has been to several Chat & Chew lunches when they were still held at the Deford Manor. She said, “It’s a way for people to get to know people in other areas,” as those working in different branches of the university are likely to never meet otherwise.

Reinig pointed out how these more community-oriented administrative events are far more common at smaller universities like VWU.

Having come from a job at Old Dominion University, Director of Career Development Alice Jones observed the differences in how large and small universities function.

Jones said more casual events that allow open conversation are a way to encourage the introduction of genuine concerns. She also said that it is important for faculty and staff to feel comfortable enough to vocalize what is on their minds. 

At larger organizations, Jones pointed out how rather than interpersonal conversations, most information has to spread through one-way, mass communication methods. Jones said an advantage to this is ensuring everyone has the same information, but a disadvantage is that presenting questions can feel daunting for staff members without back-and-forth dialogue.

Audwin Harris, a 2020 graduate of Virginia Wesleyan who now works as an Enrollment Counselor, attended the first Chat & Chew of the semester. He said it was a good opportunity because it brings together people from different branches.

Because of his alumni status, Harris offers perspective on the role of administration as both a student and staff member. 

“As a student, you’re not really likely to know so much about what goes on on a day to day basis,” Harris said. His change in standpoints has given him more insight on what happens behind the scenes to make the university function.

“We’re grateful that Bob and Nancy saw the need for such a facility,” said President Miller in a previous interview about the donors. “It’s a special place to extend good will to the campus community and to friends of the University who support its mission and goals. And when these kinds of important interactions occur, great things happen for Virginia Wesleyan,” President Miller said.

“DeFord Manor is more than a president’s residence,” said President Miller in the same interview. “It is a welcoming beacon to all who enter campus or pass by on Wesleyan Drive. It represents the pursuit of excellence and opportunity.”

“I have no doubt that the home is being used as the donors, Bob and Nancy DeFord, envisioned for the University,” Cordova said.

By Lily Reslink