University News

Tumbarello recognized as UW-Whitewater housing keeps students feeling at home

January 03, 2024

Written by Chris Lindeke | Photos by Craig Schreiner, Kenny McCarthy

Terry Tumbarello’s typical day at the office is often atypical to any other day he’s had in his 26 years on the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater campus.

On a November morning following the Thanksgiving break, his meeting topics included esports, university dining, budget, and a discussion with a student about the heating in their residence hall room.

“On any given week, you could look at my calendar, and I think you’d be shocked at the types of meetings I have,” said Tumbarello, who is in his second year as executive director of University Housing.

“Every day is different, and I love that.”

Thanks to his knack for tackling a vast array of situations and challenges, coupled with his ability to lead a department that continues to evolve to meet student needs, Tumbarello earned one of the highest honors given to housing and residence life professionals in higher education.

In November, he was announced as winner of the William B. Sweet Distinguished Service Award from the Upper Midwest Region-Association of College and University Housing Officers (UMR-ACUHO) at the organization’s annual conference. The Upper Midwest Region includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and the Canadian province of Manitoba.

Terry Tumbarello looks at his award.

Pictured, right: Terry Tumbarello, executive director of University Housing, is the recipient of the William B. Sweet Distinguished Service Award presented by the Upper Midwest Region of the Association of College and University Housing Officers. He is shown at Ma'iingan Hall on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023. (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)

The organization’s most prestigious honor, the award is given to an individual who represents a standard of excellence through contributions and dedication to the regional and international housing association and profession. The winner’s service should leave a positive and lasting impact, and they should be viewed as a role model for colleagues and new professionals.

Tumbarello received nominations from four different people on four different campuses in three different states, including former UW-Whitewater colleague Greg Thompson, who now works as director of residence education at the University of Iowa.

“It’s humbling and flattering — a tremendous honor,” Tumbarello said. “I was thrilled that it was done at the conference when I could have some of our staff present.”

Thompson met Tumbarello at a UMR-ACUHO conference and worked with him as a coordinator for leadership and academic initiatives at UW-Whitewater during the 2006-07 academic year.

“When I reflect on the legacy of Bill Sweet, and the intent of this prestigious award, I can think of no one more deserving than Terry,” Thompson wrote in the nomination. “He has dedicated his life, his passion and his time to the advancement of housing as a professional field.”


Housing that supports academic success and personal growth


Terry Tumbarello.

Terry Tumbarello, then the director of Residence Life, participated in a LEAP conference with students and staff on Jan. 10, 2019. (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)


As executive director, Tumbarello’s main responsibilities include planning and directing the administrative operation, financial affairs, and programmatic aspects of University Housing, including room assignments, support services, staffing and training, educational programming, facility renovation, policy/procedure development, and central office management team supervision. Tumbarello is no stranger to university leadership positions — he served as interim dean of students in 2015-16.

While the upkeep, maintenance and renovation of each residence hall remains a priority, University Housing supports student success on a day-to-day basis through a robust slate of programming.

Tumbarello and his team oversee UW-Whitewater’s Boxes and Walls program, an interactive diversity experience created for the campus community that encourages people to think outside of the box by throwing away stereotypes and tearing down walls of oppression. Boxes and Walls was recognized in 2020 by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) with the Region IV Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Award.

The 2023 programming, which was held Oct. 15-19 at Esker Hall, showcased Black, LGBTQ+, mental health, physical disability and LatinX experiences. Each experience was designed to allow participants to feel and/or sense what life is like from those various diverse perspectives.

“It continues to evolve every year to meet the needs of students,” Tumbarello said.


People stand on the football field.

Learning community members and advisors are introduced at halftime of the Warhawks’ football game against UW-Stout on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2023. (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)


UW-Whitewater’s Learning Community program, a collaboration among University Housing, the First Year Experience office and several academic programs, invites first-year students to live and study with peers who share similar interests and includes 17 communities in 2023-24.

“It’s a tremendous experience for those students,” Tumbarello said of the program.

The Learning Community concept was also recently developed for students who are enrolled at UW-Whitewater at Rock County and living in the residence halls on the Whitewater campus.

“Most years we have anywhere from 100 to 115 students from Rock,” Tumbarello said. “This year, for the first year ever, we created a special living option for those students to live together in a particular residence hall so we could put targeted programming and support services to better meet their needs.”

University Housing also supports academic success center programming in Wells Hall, where more than 1,200 students live; Jitters, a coffee house run by student volunteers that’s open 5-6 nights per week; and the campus’s recently-launched esports studio, which is located in Wells and is also supported by the university’s Center for Inclusive Transition, Education, and Employent (CITEE).

According to recent surveys, residents are consistently satisfied with their on-campus housing experience at UW-Whitewater. University Housing rated highly when compared to its peer institutions, and residents were particularly satisfied with the department’s ability to:

  • Enhance their ability to live cooperatively
  • Respect other students
  • Help them interact with residents who are different from them (i.e., race, gender, beliefs)
  • Enhance their ability to use campus resources to support their academic success

“Our students indicate that they find it to be a significant value,” Tumbarello added. “They tell us that it positively contributes to their learning and their ability to be academically successful here.”


A campus that cares


Terry Tumbarello makes pancakes.

Terry Tumbarello flips pancakes for students at the annual Late Night Pancake Breakfast on Dec. 6, 2023, at Esker Dining Hall. (Photo courtesy of Kenny McCarthy)


Tumbarello’s people-centric approach carries over to the University Housing team, which includes 60 full-time staff members, 10 graduate assistants and more than 400 student assistants. University Housing is “on the clock” year-round, underscoring the importance of a unified, organized staff.

“We continue to have really high luck in recruiting and retaining and attracting the most talented staff in the country,” Tumbarello said.

He estimates that more than 50 former University Housing staff members are currently employed at other institutions around the country in housing, residence life or student affairs. Several of them were on hand as he received his distinguished service award last month.

“In my time here, I’ve had more than 300 grad assistants graduate and matriculate to other student affairs positions and housing positions all over the country,” Tumbarello said.

Last summer, University Housing held a reunion — more than 100 current and former staff members attended, including all five of the department’s directors and all 15 of the associate directors who’ve worked at UW-Whitewater over the last 50 years.

“We had a couple who were RAs together at Wells in 1971 who are married, we had people who graduated last year, and we had everything in between,” Tumbarello said.

The loyalty of current and former staff members reflects Tumbarello, who has built a legacy of excellence in Whitewater with his vast network of current and former employees through programming and facility renovations that contribute to the university’s vibrant campus life.

“We care about our students,” Tumbarello said. “It’s not just lip service or buzz words or taglines. We truly care. I’ve never, ever once felt that we weren’t making a difference. I think that’s likely what keeps me going.”

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