The Interview USA
Quinnipiac University
Chief Experience Officer

Tom Ellett

Higher Education (HE) innovators are instrumental in shaping the paths of students’ lives and how they think about the world.  This means more than providing them with direct support, and expands into helping them to be curious about the world around them and the experiences they can have.

GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews spoke to Tom Ellett, Chief Experience Officer at Quinnipiac University, about how his life coaching experience has taught him how to ask the right questions and the inclusion initiatives he has proudly been a part of.

Tom’s Journey

Kira: What brought you to student affairs?

My original goal was to be a theatre director on Broadway. I was told because I was an RA that I could pay for and finance my education by working in student affairs. I started out in Residential Life, and from there, I got an MFA in directing theatre. 

But later on, I got married, had children, and thought it would be best from a career standpoint to stay in student affairs. And I feel like I use my MFA all the time. The drama I’ve seen over the years is better than any Broadway show!

Kira: You previously worked at NYU for 19 years. I’d love to hear about your experience and some of the initiatives there that you’re most proud of.

At NYU, I had the opportunity to help build some of the student life aspects globally with many of its international campuses. 

But also, on our main campus in Manhattan, I worked with a very talented group of individuals with a long tenure in student affairs, and we were very innovative in what we tried to do. This was in everything from how we engaged our commuter students to our health and wellness initiatives. 

It provided a foundation for considering how to serve students administratively all the way through to creating a sense of community. For example, we created the Student Resource Centre, which was a concierge service for any questions that students had as it related to things such as advising, starting a student organization, getting involved, or simply not becoming anonymous in a place like NYC.

We brought in students to lead a lot of those initiatives, such as orientation, and then built a space that was much more open and allowed them the opportunity to engage. 

Kira: How has your university coped with the challenges that many students are now facing coming onto university post-COVID?

Quinnipiac’s current initiatives are very much focused on student health, wellness, and well-being: physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological, and financial.  Just recently, we opened our new Wellness Centre. There’s a yoga studio, spinning, juice bar, and demonstration kitchen. We want to create an ecosystem of integrated wellness for our students. 

Coming out of COVID, a lot of students have missed some of the key developmental stages of going through high school. And so we want to help build confidence, self-awareness, and growth for our students, giving them skills and tools they can use in life after university.

Kira: You have a qualification in Life Coaching. Does coaching play a role in your leadership style?

It absolutely does. One of the things that’s foundational in coaching is asking questions and not necessarily providing answers but having your client or student start to seek them themselves. One of the best things I can do as an educator is help inspire students to be curious about many different things. 

Being a professionally focused school, many students at Quinnipiac come in already thinking they know what they want to do. This sometimes limits them from exploring possibilities. 

We want to continue to instill a sense of curiosity in students in order to create a commitment to lifelong learning.

We want to continue to instill a sense of curiosity in students in order to create a commitment to lifelong learning. We create immersive learning opportunities for students to practice, try, and fail in a supportive way — and try again. We provide opportunities for them to lead. 

Our university has a pub that was created by the student government. It’s run by students, for students, and so that’s a great opportunity for them to fail brilliantly. To try things. They make decisions, do the hiring, provide the entertainment, create the menu, cook.  They’re gaining great skills that they can apply when they create their own future businesses. 

Kira: How does your university foster inclusive behaviors within the students?

Quinnipiac isn’t as diverse as NYU, but we are committed to inclusive excellence. And we’ve looked at it from many angles. 

So, hiring practices have changed under the leadership of our Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer and our Vice President for HR. We’re making sure we have diversity in the pool of applicants, and training the interviewers accordingly. 

Then, we’ve created a series of initiatives to engage students in having difficult conversations about politics, upbringing, and value sets.  Those are very important and embedded in our first-year seminar and other engagements.

We also have opportunities and structures such as the Unity Floor, which is an LGBTQ+ organization, and our Multicultural Living Learning Centre. 

It’s important to allow people to feel comfortable first, and then when they’re ready to push their boundaries, help educate others. To have a voice and know that their voice matters on campus. 

3 Quick-fire Questions

Kira: What is your most important piece of advice for anyone coming into HE now?

Never forget the power of your presence among staff and students. Our students, more than ever before, need to be seen and need to be heard. Even something like answering an email to a student shouldn’t be thought of as a task but as a means of connecting to them.  

Kira: Who would you say you admire the most in HE or the DEI space?

I look up to many of the mentees I have who are now mentoring me without them knowing it. I’ve been blessed to work with superstars in this field, and the thing I’m most proud of is I have over 40 individuals who have worked in my operations who are now vice presidents, directors, and faculty members, impacting organizations and students of the future.

Kira: What is the most important book you’ve read?

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen. The three questions he asks are: how to be successful and happy in your career, how to build relationships with your loved ones for a lifelong source of happiness, and how will you live your life with integrity. At the end of the day, I believe my integrity is the thing I hold most dear to me. 

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Kira Matthews
Community Engagement Lead
Kira leads our community outreach team working hand-in-hand with changemakers on both sides of the pond. If you want to join the next series of The Interview, or just learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

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