Tripod Examines DiChristina’s Appointment as Vice President for Student Success and Enrollment Management Amidst June Senior Leadership Changes

Brendan W. Clark ’21 and Daniel Nesbitt ’22

Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor

Joe DiChristina, the current Vice President for Student Affairs at Trinity, was tapped by President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney earlier this month to lead a new division—Student Success and Enrollment Management—the latest development in a series of administrative changes following the departure of senior leadership at the College over the past year. 

The decision, prompted by the departure of Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success Angel Perez in July, came after Berger-Sweeney realized that this was “a moment to consider the opportunity to continue improving our organization.” After describing the various changes, Berger-Sweeney expressed gratitude “to all who offered their advice and input, including…members of the Admissions and Financial Aid Committee and of the Student Government Association,” among others. 

Chair of the Admissions and Financial Aid Committee Professor Tamsin Jones told the Tripod that the Committee “met with President Berger-Sweeney once to discuss the future of admissions in the wake of Angel Perez’s departure, at which time we gave her our thoughts about the strengths and challenges of the admissions and financial aid at Trinity. [The committee was] not involved in this decision regarding these organizational changes beyond that.” Once informed of the structural changes, Jones elaborated, the Committee “agreed with President Berger-Sweeney’s appraisal.” Contrary to Berger-Sweeney’s message which indicated student 
“advice and input” in process, SGA Vice President for Communications Jack Stone ’22 told the Tripod that SGA was notified of the organizational changes prior to Berger-Sweeney’s community-wide announcement, but “was not involved in the senior leadership change relating to Dean Joe.”

The Tripod spoke with Chief of Staff to the President Jason Rojas who noted DiChristina’s qualifications for the position, having served as a “higher education professional for over 30 years.” 20 of those years, Rojas added, have been with “president’s leadership.”  Berger-Sweeney also described DiChristina as “among the most caring, collegial, and collaborative administrators I’ve ever known.”  

DiChristina, who does not have direct experience leading an admissions team, previously served as Dean of Students at Alleghany College in Pittsburgh and as an Associate Dean of Students at Oberlin College in Ohio. He was earlier involved in Safety and Security there, according to a 1998 article in the Oberlin Review. Rojas said that DiChristina’s work at Trinity has prepared him for the role, as he has been “fully engaged in and a part of important institutional decisions related to enrollment policies and practices.” His work, Rojas continued, has been “tied to retention and graduation which are all part of the enrollment model for colleges and universities.”

Berger-Sweeney’s June 9 letter indicated that DiChristina will lead a division which oversees the student experience from “the prospective student to the graduate launching into life beyond Trinity.” When asked about the involvement of DiChristina in admissions decisions, Rojas indicated that the “review of applications is under the purview of the highly capable admissions staff led by Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Adrienne Oddi.” DiChristina, however, will “provide administrative and leadership support for Dean Oddi and her team to recruit and enroll students that are highly qualified.” It was not immediately clear what form this administrative support would take. Dean Oddi, however, “will manage the day-to-day work of admissions and financial aid,” Rojas added. Structurally, both Oddi and newly appointed executive director of the Center for Student Success and Career Development Joe Catrino will “report directly to Joe DiChristina,” Rojas continued. 

Oddi came to Trinity in August 2019 from Berry College in Georgia. Her position, as Dean of Admissions, was created following the departure of Dean of Student Success and Career Development Jennifer Baszile[Da1]  for a Vice Chancellorship at UC Santa Cruz in spring 2019. 

The decision also eliminates a Vice President position in the College’s leadership and will “result in significant cost savings for the college,” according to Berger-Sweeney’s June 9 letter. The Tripod sought clarification on these cost savings. Rojas indicated that it “wouldn’t be appropriate to provide an exact dollar figure at this time” with “work nearing completion on the budget.” However, Rojas did note that “there will be salary savings.”      

Rojas added that administrative size, which has previously been covered by the Tripod, is “not a concern” and did not factor into the decision despite the President’s note of the reduction of senior leadership in her June 9 letter. Rather, Rojas indicated that the administration saw “an opportunity to work together to better understand how we compare administratively to our peers” in the interest of understanding the “essential and significant responsibilities” required by senior leadership. 

The President’s announcement also cited Syracuse and George Washington University, with approximately 20,000 and 12,000 students respectively, as examples of this new structural approach. When asked how Trinity’s size difference could impact the efficacy of these changes, Rojas suggested that Trinity’s smaller student population “will result in a more personal and therefore substantive experience at Trinity.”

Perez, departing in July, reached out to the Tripod to express his support for DiChristina’s appointment, describing him as “one of the kindest and caring people I’ve ever met.” Perez added that “no Vice President works alone, and he [DiChristina] will be supported by an extraordinary group of leaders in my division.” Perez had previously told Inside Higher Ed in 2019 that overseeing enrollment requires specialized training in admissions: “most people who inherit the role were trained as admissions officers.” Perez continued, noting that admissions training is critical but not enough and rarely provides “adequate preparation for the diverse responsibilities of today’s enrollment manager.” 

In response to concerns that DiChristina lacks formal admissions training, Rojas told the Tripod that “Trinity has engaged external enrollment experts to help build an enrollment model to assist with developing goals and strategies for admitting students.” Rojas added that DiChristina and others will continue their work with experts to “better understand an ever-changing higher education landscape.” 

DiChristina’s appointment over this new division at Trinity comes as the administration realizes the departure of seven senior administrators at the College in less than two years. In March 2020, Associate Academic Dean Melanie Stein and Dean of the Faculty Tim Cresswell announced their departures. Baszile in the Student Success division also left Trinity that spring. Then, in February 2020, Trinity College Chaplain Allison Read announced her departure, followed by Associate Academic Dean Anne Lambright in March and Perez in the Enrollment Division in May. In June, Vice President for Information Technology Sue Aber announced her pending departure in October 2020. 

Berger-Sweeney’s announcement also listed new titles and responsibilities for existing senior administrators. Oddi “will serve as dean of admissions of financial aid,” while Catrino, formerly Director of Career Development, will oversee the Center for Student Success and Career Development as Executive Director. Jody Goodman, formerly Assistant Dean of Students, “will serve as dean of student life” and continue her role as Director of the Bantam Network. “She will oversee the Counseling and Wellness Center; the Health Center; housing; accessibility; Spiritual and Religious Life; and Student Activities, Involvement, and Leadership (SAIL),” the President’s letter explained. 

“Student conduct/standards, campus life and Greek life, and campus safety” will now be under the purview of former Associate Dean of Students Rob Lukaskiewicz, now Dean of Community Life and Standards. Ann Reuman will continue in her role as Senior Associate Dean of Students but is now also a Special Assistant to the Vice President. Similarly, Drew Galbraith’s role remains largely unchanged and he will continue as “director of athletics and chair of physical education.” Though not mentioned in Berger-Sweeney’s announcement, Associate Dean of Students John Selders will “remain in his role to support students and provide counsel regarding their personal and academic needs,” Rojas confirmed. 

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