Palko Named Inaugural Residential Commons Program Director

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Abigail L. Palko, PhD, director of the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center at the University of Virginia, has been named the inaugural director of the Residential Commons program at Colgate University. She will begin her work on Aug. 7.

Palko has served in the women’s center at UVA since 2016, while holding an affiliated faculty position in the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality as well as an honorary appointment as a clinical lecturer in the School of Nursing. As director, she helps to set priorities for the women’s center and maps out approaches to fulfilling its mission. She provides executive leadership for a team of more than 16 professional staff members and nearly 90 students — her oversight extends to staffers and interns pursuing engaged scholarship as well as counseling and wellness programs. 

“In Abby, Colgate has found the ideal candidate to take on the new role of Residential Commons director,” says Paul J. McLoughlin II, vice president and dean of the college. “She is both a capable administrator and a compassionate educator. This is the combination of talents and strengths that Colgate needs to take the commons program to an even higher level.”

The directorship is a joint appointment between the Office of the Dean of the College and the Office of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty, reflecting the partnership inherent in the Residential Commons program itself.

“Abby emerged as the obvious choice in this search, in large part because of her demonstrated ability to connect with faculty, staff, and students,” says Lesleigh Cushing, provost and dean of the faculty. “We see her as having the interpersonal skills, experience, and energy necessary to build a stronger sense of connection with the commons among all constituencies.”

First and second-year students at Colgate live within one of four Residential Commons led by faculty and staff directors, providing all students with a strong foundational community from the first day of enrollment — a place where they experience tradition, build class unity, and cultivate an affinity for the University while engaging with professors and each other in recreational, social, and intellectual activities.

“I am excited by the opportunity to develop the Residential Commons Program’s potential to build unity and welcome students into tradition, contributing to realizing the aspirations of the Third-Century Plan,” Palko says. 

The University opened its four current commons between 2015 and 2017. The addition of a fifth commons to complete the program is a key initiative within the Third-Century Plan and has been moved forward with a leadership gift from trustee emeritus Robert Fox ’59, GP’23,’25.

As director, Palko will help to advance the commons’ foundational goals while outlining a continuing vision and assessment process for the program — all in collaboration with faculty and staff co-directors, residential life staff, faculty and staff affiliates, and commons residents. She will also work in partnership with faculty members who teach Freshman Seminar Program courses, many of which take place in classrooms located in the Residential Commons, and she will serve on the team responsible for creating and implementing first-year Living-Learning Workshops as part of Colgate’s Liberal Arts Core Curriculum.

Palko earned her bachelor’s degree in English and French from Chestnut Hill College, her master’s degree in English from Rutgers, and her PhD in literature with a gender studies graduate minor from the University of Notre Dame — where she also served as associate director and director of undergraduate studies in the Gender Studies Program, affiliate faculty in the Department of Africana Studies, and fellow in the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies.

“When I look back on my own undergraduate experience in a small liberal arts college, I am struck by how formative those years were for who I am today, both personally and professionally,” Palko says. “We didn’t use the label ‘living-learning community’ then, but that was the essence of our collegiate environment, and I’m looking forward to cultivating an intellectually robust and communal experience in the Residential Commons.”