By Patricia Ressell-Deras
MADISON, N.J. – Dr. Robert Pignatello has begun work as the first Senior Vice President of University Operations. This new position has replaced the previous structure of a Metropolitan Campus Executive and Florham Campus Executive. In this position, Pignatello is a member of the senior team that reports directly to President Christopher Capuano.
While Pignatello currently deals with COVID-19 protocols amongst the students, this position predates COVID-19 and is part of the university’s restructuring plan.
According to an official job post on Lensa, a job seeking website similar to Indeed, the responsibilities of a Senior Vice President for University Operations are day-to-day operations of both campuses, developing the campus administrative budgets, supporting campus-wide policies and procedures for select student and administrative support services and supervising multiple student support units and administrative departments, including but not limited to Facilities and Auxiliary Services, Student Affairs, Athletics, Student Counseling and Health Services, Academic and Disability Support Services and Public Safety.
Pignatello agrees with these responsibilities and notes that he collaborates on student affairs matters with Dr. Uchenna Baker, the new Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students.
Pignatello has previously worked at the City University of New York, John Jay College and was the President of Lockhaven University in Pennsylvania. Therefore, Pignatello has an overwhelming amount of experience in campus operations and administration.
Pignatello’s goal is to improve and strengthen student services in order to improve the student experience at FDU.
“The big part of the focus of this new office is to engage students. Is to improve their experience,” Pignatello said, “The student experience should be very high quality.”
Motivating Commuter Students
In the fall of 2019, The Equinox received a database from the campus executive’s office, which detailed the number of residents and commuters from that year’s enrollment. Altogether 8,100 students were enrolled on the Metro campus. Of those students, over 90% – 7,388 students to be precise – were commuters.
With such a large commuter population in the past, and I suspect an even larger commuter population this semester, how can commuters expect to receive the same student experience as residents?
Pignatello acknowledged this issue.
“It is always a challenge to motivate commuter students to be involved in university activities,” said Pignatello.
“We have to look for ways and understand what it’s going to take for [commuters] to stay on campus, and want to be involved.”
Pignatello is aware of commuters’ issues of club meeting time conflicts, unappealing facilities, poor meal plans, and balancing work schedules and school amongst many other commuter issues.
Pignatello hopes the idea of intramural sports will intrigue commuters enough to stay on campus and contribute to the student experience.
On the Metro campus, the commuter lounge is located in the Fitness Center, where most intramural sports, such as basketball, badminton and billiards take place. Therefore, when commuters enter or leave the Fitness Center, they will pass by potential games in progress.
Hopefully these sports are just what is needed to keep commuters on campus.
Mental Health Agenda
During the interview, Pignatello stressed student mental health and raising awareness about the subject.
“Mental health is going to be a big focus,” Pignatello said.
“For a long time, I believed and understood that we have to pay attention to student’s emotional needs and their mental well-being for them to be successful. We have to be ready for them, not the other way around.”
Pignatello believes in erasing the stigma behind mental health issues and the need to get extra help.
Pignatello discussed how helping students’ emotionally and mentally needs to be addressed whenever the issue arises: 24/7.
But where does this leave S-CAPS?
S-CAPS stands for the Student Counseling and Psychological Services that is currently on the Metro campus. They help facilitate personal, social and intellectual development of FDU students by providing counseling, diagnostic evaluations, psychotherapy, advocacy and even referrals.
According to Pignatello, S-CAPS will not disappear but be expanded on.
“We want to explore other ways to provide improvements to students’ mental health involving other than spending an hour with a counselor.”
Pignatello talked about the ideas of peer-support groups and workshops to help students’ mental health.
He also mentioned some third-party apps that provide 24-hour therapy counseling and do self-diagnosis. Examples of these apps are “BetterHelp”, “TalkSpace”, and “TeenCounseling”.
While these apps provide an extremely needed service at a discounted rate than traditional therapy, the cost can still be too high for students, and/or overtime can become a financial burden.
By mentioning the idea of third-party therapy apps, could Pignatello be hinting at a potential future partnership with such services?
Pignatello sets forth great ideas and shows potential to lead both campus communities in a positive direction.
Students will be watching and waiting anxiously to see Pignatello’s ideas come to fruition.
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Dr. Pignatello at work.
Photo by Patricia Ressell-Deras.