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Students at the Center: The Campaign for Saint Peter’s University was in its infancy when Eugene J. Cornacchia, Ph.D., became president of the University in 2007. Following its spectacular conclusion, Dr. Cornacchia reflects on the many successes of the $64 million campaign and the ways it has advanced the identity and future of Saint Peter’s.

There are many concrete accomplishments and outcomes of Students at the Center: The Campaign for Saint Peter’s University. Could you take the 40,000-foot view of the overall impact of the Campaign and tell us how you think it changed Saint Peter’s now and, perhaps, forever?

I think about this a lot. I think what it’s done is given us a renewed sense of who we are. We had kind of struggled or wrestled with somewhat of an inferiority complex for a while, because of rough times in Jersey City, as well as a sense that we couldn’t accomplish big things anymore. I think what this Campaign did was to show people that we could, in fact, set goals that are ambitious and that we could achieve them if we work hard and come together. I think it was transformational in terms of not just the physical things that it brought to us, but in terms of our sense of confidence and hope for the future because people are willing to invest in the University.

Alumni, especially, have been hearing about the Campaign for a long time. You are on the road a lot. How have perceptions of Saint Peter’s changed among alumni? What do they say?

Well, the common theme from the alumni is, of course, how much the institution means to them and how they’re willing to help bring that experience to students today and in the future. There’s a real sense of commitment to the institution by the alumni and a sense of giving back. In fact, just yesterday I received a letter from an alum who hadn’t been back to Saint Peter’s probably since he graduated. He had a business meeting in downtown Jersey City and said, ‘You know, I can’t be in Jersey City and not go up and look at Saint Peter’s.’ And so he comes up and sends me this letter that said how proud he is of what his institution has become, that he was blown away by what’s happened here, and that he’s sorry he hadn’t really come earlier and seen it sooner.

I think one of the more tangible signs of it is that more alumni children are looking at us and coming to
us, which is a good sign. Now, we have a long way to go, I acknowledge that, but that hasn’t happened in a long time.

How do you think the institution is stronger and better since the time the parents of prospective students attended?

Well, we have graduate programs that have expanded dramatically and that’s provided a very strong
enrollment base and therefore a level of financial—I hate to use the word security because that can be
fleeting—but certainly we’re stronger financially for it. It’s a more sustainable model. Offering graduate
programs also helps raise your profile, particularly in the professional business community. I think we’re
also stronger because as we’ve moved more vigorously into residential life that provides a level of community and activity that we just didn’t have in the old commuter model where people came, did their thing and went home.

How has the feeling on campus changed?

Saint Peter’s today is, more than ever in its history, a community. It’s a real thriving community. Take away what’s surrounding us and we stand on our own as a place where people live and work and socialize. So it’s a city within a city, basically.

Saint Peter’s future is intertwined with the future of Jersey City. In what ways has Jersey City changed over the last decade, which was around the time the silent phase of the Campaign started?

For years, we’ve talked about linking the University more to downtown development. That was something we really focused on—we have to find a way to project ourselves east. We’ve done that in little steps. But more importantly, I think what we’ve come to understand during the Campaign is that we don’t need to connect ourselves only to the downtown area to be successful. We are going to be an important and vibrant hub in Jersey City redevelopment right here. It’s already happening with McGinley Square and in Journal Square. Now, I think over the last seven years or so, people see us as a force, an economic force, a source of social and economic change in the area and
one that really serves the community.

Going into the Campaign you were pretty adamant that Saint Peter’s set realistic, reachable goals rather than an overly ambitious plan that gets filed away in a drawer. How did this approach affect your results?

Well, I don’t want to say fundraising is easy, but it’s easier when you have a goal that people connect with, that they really can buy into. We had to succeed. Failure was not an option. I kept saying that to everyone.

Does what happened change what’s possible?

I think it goes to the idea that we can succeed doing big things. I think we have to be prudent going forward about the next big thing we choose. It has to be a goal that really fulfills a need here. But, I think what we’ve realized is if we’ve raised $64 million, we could raise another big amount. I really do see the success of this Campaign as the foundation for future successful campaigns. Now we’ve done it.

Eugene J. Cornacchia, Ph.D., is the 22nd president of Saint Peter’s University. During the seven-year campaign, he not only traveled all around the country to gather with alumni and friends — from Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale, Naples, Port St. Lucie, Tampa and West Palm Beach, Florida — but strengthened ties right here in the Tri-State area, bringing the community members back to Jersey City to see how the campus has grown. Follow him on Twitter @PeacockPrez.