Updated: April 14, 2020 at 1:06 a.m.
Officials selected a permanent director of counseling and psychological services for the Colonial Health Center in late February.
Jessica Parrillo – the director of clinical operations in Drexel University’s counseling office – will step into the director’s position June 1, officials said Friday. Cissy Petty, the vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said she has known Parrillo through working with her at St. Lawrence University 15 years ago and is “impressed” with her growth as a leader in the mental health care field.
Petty said she ultimately decided to hire Parrillo because of her “student-centric” approach to mental health counseling.
“She’s just an involved person in her life, whether it’s with family or with friends or understanding their health and well-being or their own mindfulness,” Petty said. “She has this breadth of knowing who she is deeply and has an ability to share it with other people.”
Former Associate Dean of Students Danielle Lico then took the helm until Petty began overseeing the center in 2018. Petty said in October that she was considering not hiring a permanent director for one to two years to ensure she had sufficient time to transform the center into a place students felt comfortable using.
Petty said she conducted the search with the help of the employment search firm Isaacson, Miller and a committee of students, including Student Association President SJ Matthews and SA Sen. Quentin McHoes, ESIA-U.
Isaacson, Miller has previously assisted searches for the deans of the College of Professional Studies, the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Petty added that Parrillo will become GW’s next administrator-on-call, a program that offers 24/7 support for students in crisis. Assistant Dean of Student Residential Engagement Stewart Robinette previously performed the on-call role but is moving off campus and passing the duty to Parrillo as she moves onto campus.
She said the exact process of how she will transition Parrillo into the directorship is in flux because of uncertainty over when students and officials will return to campus, but she and other staff can virtually onboard Parrillo if needed.
“She will start very quickly getting to know folks, and we’ll do a whole onboarding,” Petty said.
Petty said reforms to the health center have increased students’ comfort using the center, but she wants to continue gathering input on how to improve CHC services.
She said she will continue to oversee the center, and Isabel Goldenberg will continue to serve as the medical services director as Parrillo steps into the directorship.
Petty said she hopes Parrillo will “leverage” the strengths of each CHC staff member to further improve the center. She said the center is “clinically sound” in terms of its health care services, but still needs to become a more welcoming space for students.
She added that she hopes Parrillo will encourage staff to attend SA and Residence Hall Association events to form closer relationships with students and increase their comfort using the center.
“I just really want our students to know these professionals in a different way so that they understand their work better and that they can develop relationships,” she said.
Petty said hiring Parrillo as a permanent director will foster collaboration between the medical and mental health services sides of the CHC. She said the two sides of the center tend to negotiate how to resolve disagreements instead of collaborating to solve problems within the center.
“Let’s play from our strengths and not from any kind of petty differences,” Petty said.
Matthews, the SA president, said she and McHoes held an informal meeting with the finalists for the directorship in February to get to know each candidate. Matthews said Parrillo’s “commitment” to enhancing the student experience made her stand out as an ideal candidate for the position.
“The CHC has the potential to be a really great resource for students, but right now it’s not,” Matthews said. “And someone who could come onto a campus like ours, that’s not a traditional college campus – we have multiple campuses, multiple different types of student needs – and to be able to meet that was really important to me.”
McHoes said he was looking for a candidate dedicated to advocating for students instead of acting as a “conduit” for University policies that might not serve students’ best interests. He said he was impressed with Parrillo’s professionalism, leadership and openness to new ideas and solutions.
McHoes added that he hopes Parrillo will take steps to mend students’ distrust of the CHC and strengthen working dynamics among staff.
“The twin approach that I really hope Jessica does take – which I think she is very much prepared to take and attempts to take – is one that focuses on the student experience and making that as strong as possible,” he said.
This post has been updated to correct the following:
A previous version of this article stated that Stewart Robinette was stepping down from his position. Robinette will remain in his position but move out of an on-campus townhome. Parrillo will take over the on-call duty upon moving to campus. We regret this error.