The new Tri-C Student Engagement Director of the Westshore and Western Campus, Chavilah Witt, said her family’s hospitality and openness encouraged her to pursue a career in student life.
Throughout her childhood, Witt’s family opened their suburban Cleveland home to visitors and travelers.
Witt recalled when her household hosted a family of six for several weeks. She said the experience humbled her and influenced her current motto for student engagement.
“[I want to] share and keep an eye out for people who don’t feel welcome/connected and find a way to connect them,” Witt said.
Witt pursued a career in teaching at the University of Findlay until experience in the field inspired her to change careers.
Witt remembered, “sitting down with my friend, and she kept telling me, ‘Chavilah, you love people, do something that revolves around that.”
Witt chose to pursue student engagement after speaking with the student life director at her college. “I didn’t realize working on a college campus was an option, going into resident life as a career,” said Witt.
Witt’s Impact on Tri-C
Witt’s dedication to her work has been demonstrated through her achievements at Tri-C. In her two years with the college, she has improved the student government program, created a “new club advisor orientation”, club/officer advisor round tables.
When she first engaged with club advisors, they said they felt like they were on an island with no support. She changed that.
“What I noticed when I started is that the club guidebook had not been updated for five years,” said Witt. “I went through and updated it and created a new advisor orientation to provide advice on how to lead a club.”
Another way she has improved communication is through advisor/officer round tables. These “round tables” serve as a virtual opportunity for advisors to discuss their progress, what is coming up, questions, and how they feel they are doing.
Witt also contributed to creating Student Leadership Development, a student leadership certificate program.
“The program offers a non-credit leadership certification that builds your skills slowly, with a three-level certification,” explained Witt.
Another program she has developed is the student government at the Westshore and Western campuses. She will have a retreat for each campus, and host planning sessions to accomplish goals for each semester.
For example, the Western campus wanted one outreach event each month. Witt helped to plan their first outreach, a town hall meeting. “We sent out a survey to gain insight into what the experience has been and what students are looking for,” said Witt.
Witt’s Impact on Others
Witt’s college classmates described her as a workhorse. She once worked three jobs while attending school at the University of Findlay.
“Each semester I would schedule my classes, I would talk to each of my [work] supervisors,” said Witt. “Once I had my classes set and I knew my work schedule, every single Sunday I would sit down and lay out my entire week, assignments I had due and the ones coming up.”
According to Witt, she was one of the few students who had to pay for college on her own. Her work ethic continued into her professional life, nailing jobs across the United States. Witt has worked in Ohio, Kentucky, and Texas.
She served as the Interim Assistant Director of Residence Education and Student Life Coordinator at Morehead University in Kentucky (2012-2014). She also served as the Resident Life Coordinator at the University of Texas at Dallas (2014-2017).
Another position she held was the Assistant Director of Student Activities and Involvement at Cleveland State University (2017-2019). Alan Rucker, a former colleague of Chavilah at Morehead State and current Director of Housing there, described his experience working with Witt.
“Chavilah is a people-person to be sure, and thrives in a student-centered organization,” said Rucker. “Her passion is connection and ensuring that people feel valued, respected, and able to contribute no matter their standing.”
Lydia Batchelor, another former colleague of Witt from the University of Texas at Dallas and current engineer for the company Atlassian said: “Chava is skilled at creating connections with others, including supervisors, colleagues, student staff members, and the residents of her building,” said Batchelor. “She earns others’ trust, which makes her an effective supervisor and team member, and she is empathetic, which makes her invaluable in team projects and conversations.”
Witt has a diverse portfolio including serving as an English teacher in Peru for four months and serving as a public speaker/trainer after earning her Color Code Trainer certification.
Balancing Work & Family
Witt said she had a huge wake-up call when working out of state. A family emergency reminded her how far she was from home. “My sister had complications giving birth and because of circumstances I wasn’t aware of, she could have lost the baby,” said Witt.
After years of scheduling every minute of her life due to school, work, and new job opportunities, Witt decided she needed more balance. “My nephew wouldn’t be alive, and I wouldn’t have met him because I prioritized work over my family,” said Witt. “Family should be my number one priority.”
Witt took the first step to managing her priorities by leaving her job at the University of Texas at Dallas.
“I remember, not caring if I had to take a job out of my field, I wanted to be there for my family,” said Witt. Witt was fortunate to find a job at Cleveland State University as the Assistant Director of Student Activities and Involvement.
She worked there for almost three years before she was hired at Tri-C as the Director of Student Life, Athletics, and Recreation until she recently became the Director of Student Engagement.
Witt said she manages her work/life balance by scheduling time each month for friends and family members.
Witt’s Advice for Students & Faculty
“I want to see students involved in events at college,” said Witt. “A lot of students will run into the question of whether the program is right for them.
“The faculty needs to provide friendships and safety nets to have these conversations, said the Student Life Director. “They (students) will drop out of school,” said Witt. “(We need to) help close the gap and make it easier for students to graduate and get their degrees.”
Witt wants to create a new department culture that focuses on connecting people. “Anytime anyone stops by our office, I want them to feel valued and connected,” said Witt. “Is this where I can get a parking pass? No, but let me connect you with someone to help you with that.”
Makaela Bogardy is a student in MJS 2010, News Writing, in the Fall 2021 semester