Many students are familiar with the news of the departure of John Brogan, who held the title dean of students until this spring. The new arrival to the position is a Northwestern alumna Julie Vermeer Elliott.
To both newcomers and returning students, the new dean of students is a fresh face to the start of the college year. Some already heard part of her story in last week’s chapel, but there’s more to Elliott’s story.
Elliott graduated in 1997 with a major in political science. From there, she took a year to do administrative work for the regional offices of the Reformed Church of America and then attended Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C.
“As I was finishing college, I wasn’t quite sure what to do,” Elliott said. “During that year (out of college), I realized that the part of political science that was most interesting to me was the intersection of politics and faith issues, and the best place to study that intersection would be in a program in Christian ethics.”
Her studies in Christian ethics led her to work for a program in theology and medicine as a research associate, and a year and a half later, she earned her position at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa., as the director of advising in first-year programs. She also eventually taught Christian ethics and the first-year seminar at Eastern.
After 10 years at Eastern, Elliott has now returned to the city she grew up in and graduated from. Her family life started close to NW, too. While a student at NW, she met her husband, Greg, and they married after college. They now have three children, Victoria, who is a sophomore in college, and Annalise and Micah, who are both under the age of 5.
Elliott’s story of her homecoming, though filled with loss, is one students may find inspiration from.
“My mother passed away in December,” Elliott said. “And when we were (here) visiting for her funeral, my dad had said, ‘I’d sure like it if you’d think about coming back to Orange City.’ And I said to him, ‘That would be great, Dad, but what would we do?’ I couldn’t even envision what we would do job-wise.”
Around the same time, Elliott felt a need for a change in her career.
“I loved my position at Eastern, but I had been doing it for 10 years,”Elliott said. “I felt it was time to take on a new challenge and to think about ways that I could grow and use my gifts in other directions.”
Still thinking about both her father’s words and her own feelings, Elliott then received news of her father’s sickness in February. From there, she and her husband started looking for jobs in northwest Iowa in order to take care of her father.
“The first person I called was John Brogan, who I had known while I was a student,”Elliott said. “I asked him, ‘So, do you know anything that’s going to be opening up at NW?’ And he was like, ‘Well…’”
Although her father passed away before they moved, things still fell into place; her husband received a job offer two days before she did, and she and her family then moved back to Orange City. For Elliott, being back in Orange City is literally being back at home; she and her family moved into the house Elliott grew up in. Now her role as the dean of students at NW has her overseeing most aspects of student life that are outside the classroom. As a former student, Elliott loves seeing what makes the faculty, staff and administration work alongside the role of educating students.
“I’ve been really impressed at how capable people are here and how committed they are to the mission and to the students,”Elliott said. “I really see the heart that they have for this place.”
Elliott hopes students experience a “seamless learning experience” in which collaboration between academic life and life outside the classroom becomes a reality. Her personal experience at NW and her love for the institution is apparent in her advice for students.
“I hope that they understand how important the four years here are in shaping them for the rest of their lives,” Elliott said. “I think sometimes students just coast through college and don’t really seize that opportunity, and I think if you walk in as a freshman and you leave as essentially the same person, then you haven’t gotten the most out of your experience. I want them to embrace the opportunity that they have and be open to the growth and change they will experience.”