Leadership Spotlight: Julie A. Payne-Kirchmeier, Ph.D.

Leadership Spotlight: Julie A. Payne-Kirchmeier, Ph.D.

By Chris Neary

woman wearing purple blazerThe following story was originally published in the MSHE Alumni Newsletter in July 2022. The interview captured below occurred before Dr. Julie Payne-Kirchmeier transitioned to her role as Vice President for Student Success for the Indiana University system in August 2022 and while she taught MSHE's Crisis Management and Mental Health Issues course.

Dr. Julie A. Payne-Kirchmeier is currently the Vice President for Student Affairs at Northwestern University and a course in the MSHE program on Crisis Management in Higher Education. She has a plethora of experience in professional organizations such as NASPA, where she is finishing up a four-year position on the board. This coming August, she will be taking her expertise and leadership to the Indiana University system as Vice President for Student Success.

Graduate Assistant Sami Fleischner: Can you tell us about your current role at Northwestern, your involvement in the MSHE program, your leadership role at NASPA, and your upcoming transition?

Dr. Julie A. Payne-Kirchmeier: I'm currently the Vice President of Student Affairs here at Northwestern and I have been at Northwestern for ten and a half years. I have been with NASPA in several leadership roles, starting with regional roles and then was elected to the NASPA Board Chair role. In August I will start as the Vice President for Student Success at Indiana University and that will be a different challenge because it is for the whole system, and not just one campus.

Fleischner: In your opinion, what makes a good leader in higher education?

Payne-Kirchmeier: You have to be a leader that practices empathy — it means that you're centering students in your work and centering people and their dignity in the work that you're doing. Also, you need to have the ability to understand the needs of folks from marginalized backgrounds as equally, if not more important because when centering those groups, you're designing universal solutions. If I design a program or redesign a system, I make sure I am asking the question “how does this help or impact folks with marginalized identities” because folks that don't hold those identities are still going to be able to navigate it.

Fleischner: What trends, challenges, or successes are you seeing in leadership in higher education right now? What do you hope future leaders will bring?

Payne-Kirchmeier: What I am seeing as being effective is people who aren't afraid to lean in and be with students. You listen, you ask questions, you approach it from a frame of curiosity, and really seek to understand. And then, also in return, offering information that helps students understand the nuances of the challenges that we are trying to co-navigate, because if you do that, you're reestablishing trust. I also think that leaders who understand what transparency really means is important. Transparency doesn't mean just throwing everything on the table and walk away, there needs to be context, honesty about information and what we can't share.

Fleischner: What has been the biggest lesson you've learned from your work in leadership and service in higher education?

Payne-Kirchmeier: You have to lead with people first. It can't be about a shiny new facility, because all of that stuff is irrelevant if you're not centering the human beings in front of you, or who are engaging with the work you're doing or working alongside you. The second big thing for me is that it's not about you. I try to elevate the names of the people who do the work because it's about them and their efforts.

To read the full interview transcript, click here.

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