Conversations with Leaders: Jason Vignone
From his office overlooking the Hall of Governors at Governors State University's (GSU), Jason Vignone points to the stock market ticker projecting to meandering students below. He calls it a symbol of hope, but it’s Vignone who’s the beacon.
And that’s exactly how he intends his presence to be to the students he works with, a guiding light at the university.
As the Director of Graduate Admissions and Retention, Vignone has worked to create a strategy for not only driving graduate admissions, but retaining students after they enroll; a multilayered process that requires creative thinking.
He utilizes a philosophy he’s formed over the 17 years he has worked in higher education. “Every student deserves an exceptional educational experience.”
And the philosophy is working. With the 2019 academic year already boasting a 24.8% increase in graduate admissions from 2018, Vignone’s department has a reason to celebrate. For his part in the success, Vignone says, “It was just about making calls. I didn’t do anything special, I just made myself available. It’s about being the port in the storm for students.”
But others counter that what he does is something special. Paul McGuinness, Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management and Director of Admissions, refers to him as “a tireless advocate for GSU’s graduate programs and a student champion.”
Yet, the success in graduate admissions is only a half victory to Vignone who is already looking ahead to those students’ futures. His vision goes beyond just placing students in the classroom, but in retaining those students, by supporting them when they’re here.
Andrae Marak, Dean of Graduate Studies, views Vignone’s efforts in recruitment and retention as a success, “Governors State offers exceptional graduate programs and Jason has played an integral role in strengthening them by recruiting high-quality students and supporting those currently enrolled.”
Relationships are key to both recruitment and retention, he says. And, he’s lived it.
For 11 years, he worked for a for-profit college in admissions helping students enroll, then as their advisor until they graduated. He also spent time as a registrar before coming to GSU to finish his Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies in 2015. After that, he joined the Governors State staff as Dual Degree Program Transfer Specialist and eventually as Associate Registrar before his most recent promotion.
The influence of those years is obvious. He isn’t content in staying in his office but would rather weather the front line with students. Vignone can be found at any hour of the day standing outside of classrooms to ensure students are successfully enrolled being a guide to those who need him.
Vignone frequently cites work by leaders in the field of minoritiy male success initiatives, Drs. J Luke Wood and Frank Harris III, who will be presenting at Governors State on Nov. 8 for an all-campus symposium on equity.
He utilizes their theories for getting students to graduation. "Every student needs five contacts on campus. I tell my students I’m one, your advisor is two, someone in financial aid is three, someone in student life is four, and finally a peer or teacher is needed to support you through this as your fifth. If you can’t find five, just find me and I’ll get you the rest. If they can make those connections, they can graduate.''
Part of what drew Vignone to GSU was the nontraditional student population. His current work involves helping undocumented students and making their entrance to college easier.
Student success is what inspires Vignone: “I love the school. I went here. I’m all in on GSU, I’m an alum and an employee.”
Looking to the future, Vignone see connections as key to accomplishing ambitious goals. By locking arms with other departments and leaders on campus, Vignone envisions a safety net that blankets the entire university for students which could improve retention rates.
“My next goal is to see 90% of students that come in the door will graduate and walk across stage. We have a little ways to go and we’re going to do everything we can to improve it.”
He aims to achieve his big goal in small steps— making the student experience easier, which unsurprisingly involves building relationships across campus.
And that’s the ultimate success for Vignone and the department. “I get to see my students start and finish and see the looks on their family’s faces when they graduate. I’ve never missed a commencement. I tell them, ‘I’ll be waiting at the end of the stage when you walk across it.’”
That’s what you would expect from a guiding light.