Paige Wigginton, '09
Leadership studies alumna makes a career of serving college students
October 10, 2011
If there’s an emergency involving one of the University of Pennsylvania’s 25,000 students, Paige Wigginton, ’09, is one of the first people contacted. Even the university’s president has her phone number. As assistant director of Penn’s Student Intervention Services office, Wigginton is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to respond to any campus crisis.
Her two-person office builds support teams to help students through crises ranging from academics and substance abuse to sexual assault, domestic violence and mental health, as well as fires and family issues. At her disposal are the university’s counseling center, chaplain’s office, academic advising and individual departments, but it’s her role to make sure that the team comes together and that the student gets what he or she needs. “We need everyone to be on the same page,” she says.
In a university of Penn’s size, building these teams is an equally large challenge. But building support teams is something Wigginton has been doing for years — even before she realized that’s what she was doing. In high school, she recruited peers to community service, and she started programs in her small town to engage youth. At Richmond, as a Bonner Scholar and intern at the Center for Civic Engagement, she recruited everyone from first-years to law students to serve as college mentors at a local high school.
A natural-born leader, the Jepson School of Leadership Studies intrigued Wigginton from the start. She chose Richmond partly so that she could major in leadership studies. Her other reason was the coordinate college system. “It was something that meant a lot, and will continue to mean a lot to me,” she says. “From day one, I knew that as a female student I was going to be taken seriously in classes, extracurricular [activities] and student government.”
The leadership example set by Westhampton College Dean Juliette Landphair impressed Wigginton. “Dean Landphair can talk the talk and walk the walk,” she says. “She empowers women and men across the University.” In a flattering moment, Wigginton’s sisters in Delta Gamma sorority declared her “Most Likely to be the Next Dean Landphair.”
But Wigginton wasn’t set on a career in higher education until she learned that people could actually study it in graduate school. She attended an alumni panel on “The Real World,” where she heard from an alumna working at DePaul University, as well as Kim Dean, ’97, currently program director at UR Downtown, both of who have master’s degrees in higher education.
“I didn’t realize that people did that. It piqued my interest in studying institutions,” Wigginton says. “As a leadership studies major it made me think more critically about … how [institutions] create leaders.”
As she narrowed in on her graduate school options, she bounced ideas off the professor of her Leadership and the Future of Higher Education course, William Cooper, distinguished university professor and former president of the University. And while chatting with Provost Steve Allred at a town hall meeting, Wigginton discovered that he had received his Ph.D. at the Graduate School of Education at Penn. She applied for their master’s program and enrolled after graduating from Richmond.
In her graduate studies, she gained “an intricate understanding of how an institution works,” she says. Because of the way Penn’s schools and offices are individually funded, “it’s kind of everyone out for themselves. Through my degree I learned ways to bridge those silos, and it’s very important in this job.”
As for her education at the Jepson School, Wigginton says she uses it every day. “You can see a lot of parallels in student development theory and leadership theory,” she says. “I marry student development with different theories of leadership, and I find it so very valuable.”