By Alonta Pitts and Bri Griffith
Chris Meaner is a Pittsburgh native whose path lead him from Minadeo Elementary to the University of Pittsburgh to the hilltop of Carlow University. Meaner was not just the director of campus life; he was someone who changed the environment of Carlow University.
He created numerous organizations and opportunities for students to find their own path. Meaner encouraged students to think outside the box and reflect on the things they learn. In the eight years he worked at Carlow, he worked to make sure that students had the opportunity to feel like they were a part of this university and to find out who they are.
How did he do this? First, he created the First Year Mentor program, which gave first-year students the opportunity to transition into college more easily by with students who have gone through that process and can relate to them. Second, he created an Alternative Spring Break Trip, taking students to a weeklong service event. This opportunity gives students the chance to interact with people they normally would not interact with.
Meaner had the opportunity to choose a new path for himself and has left Carlow to start that new path as a campus recruiter at Allegheny General Hospital. Rachel Blonski is the interim director of campus life and will work closely with Gwen Stevens, assistant director of campus life.
In the days before Meaner left in late October, we asked him a few questions about his experiences at Carlow University. We wish him the best of luck at his new position.
Question: One of your proudest moments?
Answer: “I’m having a pretty proud moment right now, actually. It’s been really surreal, especially telling Jen (Carlo, vice president for student engagement and dean of students) that I have another job… incredible to tell people I have a new job. People have been awesome, reliving the last eight years here, thinking about all of the stories I have with some of these people I’ve been working with for so long. Today, students were giving me cards. I didn’t realize the impact I had on some of these people. People I didn’t realize I had any effect on have been telling me such great things. Alumni have been talking to me as well.
“My second year here, I didn’t really know Sister Sheila. We started the same time, and we really started to connect. She’s really been my rock. She told me to read this book called Catholic Now, and it was written by one of the Kennedys. This was right around the first Obama Election. I asked her if we could invite the Kennedy who wrote the book to come and speak at Carlow, and she approved. We set up the stage, did everything, and only 12 students came. It was a flop, but her and I became super close because of it. We were able to ask ourselves and other people: What can we do better next time? I’d say it was one of the biggest flops I had while I was here, but we moved forward and learned from it.
“Walking into this building (University Commons) for the first time. I sat in on the planning team for this building. I came over here, and I knew my office was going to be in this corner. It’s like we have our own little suite for Campus Life now. When I started here, we literally had nothing. When I saw it, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, look at what we did.’ The secret is that you guys do all the work. The students do all the work.
“The FYM Program. It’s such an amazing program. When I was at Pitt, I ran a program called the Pitt Start Program, which was just the registration part for first-year students. When I came here, I had the desire to create a mentoring program focused on the students starting college, moving through their first semester/year. It was the only program of its kind in the nation for a while. It’s an amazing program.
There are two things we started here that I think help people find their life path the most: Laredo, and the Fashion Show. People change majors, they look at the world differently.
“I’m very proud of Rachel (Blonski). She’s been here for six years, and Rachel and I have been working together nonstop that whole time. I can’t think of a better person to take over Campus Life. It made it so much easier for me to take this other job knowing Rachel was taking over.”
Q: One of your funniest memories?
A: “Getting shot in the leg with a nail gun in Laredo. Angela went to hit the wood, and hit me in the leg instead. It was funny because Brittany was so mad at me. I must have called Brittany’s name 100 times.
“Two years ago in Laredo, Carrie Benson came with us. Carrie, the sweetheart that she is … we were working together outside. Someone was on the ladder, I turned around and she was rubbing her head. I asked her, ‘What’s wrong?’ and she said, ‘I think I just got hit in the head with a hammer!’ I was like ‘What?!’ You know Carrie, she was like, ‘Oh it’s OK. I’m fine’ and the bump was growing on her head while I was talking to her. The next day, I saw her somersaulting backwards. She fell over this huge thing of wood.
“Last year’s Laredo trip was really unbelievable.”
Q: Some things you’re really going to miss?
A: “I have my family, and I have my Carlow family. The people that I work with are amazing. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs here, but they’ve all been so supportive. They’re amazing. I feel like I’ve become a part of their families as well.
“Really, really, really going to miss the students. The reason why I did my job, and the reason why it’s really hard for me to leave, is because of the students, especially the students that had a hard time coming around. The Carlow student is amazing, and when I see everybody walking across the stage at graduation… a lot of college students know they’re going to college, know they belong. Carlow students don’t come from a lot of money, don’t know what college is about, and they’re trying to figure it out. I loved the job, but it’s the interactions with the students that I’m really going to miss.”
Q: How has Carlow University changed you?
A: “I think the question is ‘How has it not changed me?’ I met with my new boss … and she was taking me around to meet all of the people I’ll be working with. I was like, ‘Where’s all the diversity here?’ Coming here eight years ago, I never would have questioned diversity, spirituality, faith. Working with students, helping them figure out where they want to go in life, what they want to do, what their passions are. As students learned about themselves, I learned about myself. That’s why I was able to put so much into Carlow. I was learning more from you guys than you were learning from me. I am who I am today because of Carlow University. Now I’m really, really excited to see where that takes me.”
Q: Wise Advice?
A:“Make it your own. Something that’s really important is: Don’t be afraid of who you are. Once you find that person, do what makes that person super happy, and don’t worry about what other people think about you.”