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For more than two decades, Vice President of Student Affairs Lisa Kirkpatrick has exemplified the university’s Holy Cross mission, while touching the lives of thousands of Hilltoppers. Dedicated to the spirit of service, she inspires students to understand the value of serving others.

As a sophomore at St. Edward’s, Russell Baltera ’03 was still struggling with the amount of free time he had in college. Left to his own devices, he kept getting into trouble. The week he violated the school policy three times was the last straw. Baltera landed in the Dean of Students office for what was not his first disciplinary meeting with then-Dean Lisa Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick could see Baltera’s potential; he just needed structure and coaching. Instead of suspending him, she hired him to work in her office. There, he met students who were involved in campus organizations, and he became a student orientation leader. He helped men in his circle of friends find their niche on campus and work through their own problems. Baltera went on to earn a master’s in Digital Media Management from St. Edward’s and now works for a record label in New York City.

Instead of separating Baltera from the St. Edward’s community, Kirkpatrick had helped him connect with a new family — and find a way to serve his fellow students. It was an intuitive decision that came from years of seeing students’ potential and channeling it into a greater purpose.

“My service to students is about helping them identify moments for reflection and develop into whole, integrated, healthy people,” she says. “The student is in charge of his or her life, but I’m walking alongside them, helping them discover their passion.”

Now Kirkpatrick continues that journey as the university’s vice president for Student Affairs. Since she arrived at St. Edward’s 23 years ago, Kirkpatrick has also served as the director of two residence halls, assistant director of Residence Life, assistant director of Student Life, dean of students, Title IX coordinator and associate vice president for Student Affairs. In each position, she’s been motivated by the spirit of service and humility she sees modeled by the Congregation of Holy Cross.

“As Holy Cross educators, we’re not teaching you what to think; we’re teaching you how to think,” she says. “We’re helping you make meaning that makes sense for you and compels you to be of service to the world.”

And that approach is all the more important as the number of Holy Cross brothers shrinks. “As laypeople, we have to interpret the mission in real time and evolve what we do to meet the needs of the changing student body,” she says.

Beginning in 2006, Kirkpatrick and then-Director of Campus Ministry Father Rick Wilkinson, CSC, led a team of Student Affairs and Campus Ministry staff in developing the Holy Cross Initiative. That project, the brainchild of President George Martin, was a professional development curriculum to help staff from both departments integrate the Holy Cross mission into their work with students. While volunteer work and social justice are popular on many college campuses, the university’s focus on service as a foundational value — rather than a task accomplished in a few hours — is distinct.

“To me, the basic way of engaging in the human experience is seeing how you can be of service to others,” Kirkpatrick says. “I tell students at Orientation that at St. Edward’s, we will do three things: we will challenge you academically, we will educate you with a global perspective, and we will help prepare you to make a difference in the world. You decide how, but we’re going to help you do that.”

Kirkpatrick finds her own fulfillment in helping students connect with their purpose. “Being part of an organization where we lead with soul, and we are grounded in a very spiritual mission, is my reward,” she says. “Even those difficult decisions we sometimes have to make, we make from a space of authenticity and love. For me, to come to work every day and be a part of something greater than myself that is in service of the student — that is my nourishment.”

By Robyn Ross