To be a great university, WUSTL needs to be a good neighbor. That’s the policy that guides Rose Windmiller and her colleagues in the Office of Government and Community Relations.
“It’s important that we maintain good relationships with our neighbors and those in the St. Louis area,” says Windmiller, assistant vice chancellor. “The long-term health of the area is vitally important to the university. Faculty and staff live here. Our students live here.”
Many unaffiliated with the university also live and work in the four municipalities WUSTL calls home: the City of St. Louis, University City, Clayton and St. Louis County. And actions or decisions made by the university or members of the university community can impact them — for better (such as Service First, when WUSTL students volunteer to paint and clean St. Louis-area schools) and for worse (when traffic backs up during Commencement).
Whether to solve a problem or advance a new university initiative — such as the proposed construction of the Loop retail and student apartment development on Delmar Boulevard in University City — Windmiller and her colleagues are there to serve as “problem-solvers” and “relationship-builders” with outside community members and government officials, Windmiller says.
Many points of view
When dealing with the community, there are many points of view to consider, but that’s nothing new for Windmiller, who grew up the second-youngest of eight children. She says her family balanced and respected the needs, identities and opinions of its 10 members — and openly discussed different viewpoints, especially in politics.
“My parents encouraged all of us as to express ourselves, and family dinners allowed us the opportunity to talk about social issues. Conversations were interesting and helped me hone my communications skills,” Windmiller says. “If you made a point at dinner, you had better be able to make it succinct and back it up.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 1985, Windmiller became a project services associate for the United Way of Greater St. Louis. While there, she helped create the 211 help line, an easy way for those in need in the community to connect to services provided by United Way agencies.
She earned a master’s degree in public administration from Saint Louis University in 1990 while also working as SLU’s director of student volunteer programs. While working on her master’s degree, Windmiller knew she was interested in public policy and higher education, but she wasn’t sure how to combine the two.
The depth and breadth of activities
The opportunity came along in 1988, when Bob Blackburn, WUSTL’s first director of government and community relations, hired Windmiller as his assistant.
As the university grew, attracting more and more students and research funds, so did its needs for government and community relations staff. With Windmiller, the government and community relations staff had doubled to two, with Windmiller focusing on state and local issues. In 1992, Windmiller was named assistant director of government and community relations.
As the university continued to grow and her office expanded further, Windmiller made a steady climb through the department. She was named assistant vice chancellor in 2010.
Throughout her career at WUSTL, Windmiller not only has worked with close neighbors but also with elected officials at the local, state and national levels to help elected officials and WUSTL administrators understand each other.
“Often, elected officials don’t understand the depth and breadth of activities that go on at a research institution like Washington University,” Windmiller says. “We act as a resource for them.”
Making a better place
A top priority for Windmiller and her colleagues is to make sure that federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and Department of Energy are adequately funded. Without federal funding, many professors and scholars at WUSTL would be unable to pursue their research.
Windmiller also has worked with local government officials and influential community members on state and local initiatives that concern WUSTL, such as the 2010 passage of Proposition A in St. Louis County, which expanded funding for public transit, including MetroLink and Metro bus; and the 2006 passage of the Missouri amendment protecting stem-cell research.
During those initiatives and others, Windmiller was continually impressed by WUSTL students who went “above and beyond” to support them.
“Ninety percent of our students come from outside Missouri, but they’re dedicated to making sure that when they leave St. Louis, it’s a better place,” Windmiller says.
Windmiller has been a WUSTL employee for 24 years, but she says she still feels a thrill walking onto campus each morning.
“I’m a native St. Louisan, so I grew up in the university’s shadow and watched as it became such an incredibly interesting, wonderful, important academic institution,” she says. “For me to be a part of it is amazing.
“The people who work here are unbelievably smart and dedicated to the university’s students and research mission,” Windmiller continues. “I am especially impressed with my department colleagues. Our office operates as a team, under the guidance and support of Pam Lokken, vice chancellor of government and community relations. It’s a tremendous experience to work with sharp individuals who keep me on my toes.
“It helps me stay on top of my game and do the best possible job in representing the university’s interests out in the community.”