Interview by Sarah Shumick
Helping others succeed is something John Naughton, who currently serves as Associate VP for Graduate & Adult Enrollment at Ohio Dominican University, comes by naturally. He gives partial credit for his career trajectory in enrollment management to his mother, a former higher-ed professional, along with his experience at places like the Association of American Medical Colleges and Johns Hopkins, to name a couple. Naughton, who grew up just outside of the Bronx, lives with his family and their dog, Georgia, in Powell. He commends Columbus for its high energy, upward momentum and seemingly infinite possibilities.
Where did you grow up, and what brought you to Columbus? I grew-up in and around New York City. Born in Brooklyn, we moved to New Rochelle in Westchester County, just outside the Bronx, when I was 10. I met my wife, Amanda, in college (Wheeling Jesuit University), and lived in Baltimore, MD for 6 years before settling down in Columbus. She’s a Columbus girl, so I suppose the move here was inevitable. It’s really been great – we arrived in Columbus in 2006, which has given me great perspective as a non-native to the area just how far the city, and Central Ohio, in general, has come in the past 10-15 years. We’ve really planted our own roots here – having grown-up in a place as full of energy as NYC, it’s exciting to raise my own kids (Lilly and Liam) in a city as full of momentum and possibilities as Columbus.
Give us a snapshot of your career path: I’ve been in higher education my entire career. A summer internship in the Alumnae Office at the College of New Rochelle (CNR) in NY lead to a grad assistant position in the Alumni Office at Wheeling Jesuit, which then lead to my first professional position with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Since then, I’ve been lucky to hold positions with increasing levels of opportunity at some wonderful places, including the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington D.C., Ohio Wesleyan University and, for the past 7 years, Ohio Dominican. Really, it all traces back to my mom, who has 3 degrees from Fordham University, and was the Director of Campus Ministry at CNR while I was in high school and college.
Tell us about your current career role: I get to go to college every day; who wouldn’t love that? Specifically, I oversee enrollment for our Adult, Military and Graduate programs – from new student recruitment through graduation, including our 4+1 graduate programs, ROTC and military programs, and growing external institutional partnerships, to name a few. It’s an incredibly rewarding role, as I not only get to work with some amazing colleagues, but we spend our days helping people from all walks of life figure out their best path forward.
What’s new and exciting at ODU? We’re in the midst of another great and exciting year on campus: our Public Relations students took home top honors at a national competition in Washington D.C., ODU will be hosting the 2019 (and 2021) Women’s Basketball NCAA Division 2 Elite 8 and National Championship the last week of March, we have a new partnership with the University of Dayton for Engineering and Law School, we’ve been named a Military Friendly School for the 10th consecutive year, and we’ve completed the restoration of our historic Matesich Theater!
What gets you up in the morning? And what gets you through the workweek? Literally? Georgia, our one-year-old Cavapoo. Aside from her, and our kids ever-growing social calendars, I really do love my job and the people I get to interact with every day. And, really, my dad got up at 4AM every day to drive an hour into Brooklyn, only to turn around at the end of the day to fight rush hour traffic to be back in time to coach Little League. I have a lot of reasons to get up and get through the week, none more than the examples set by those around me.
What advice or mentors have helped guide you along the way? I’ve been lucky to work with a number of talented leaders, several of whom are still actively in my life and continue to offer their support and wisdom whenever I’m in need. That said, there are two really simple bits of wisdom I’ve found myself coming back to throughout the years: 1. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. 2. No matter what happens to you today, the doors to that place will open again tomorrow (thanks, Mom!). It might seem a bit cliché, but these two statements have always acted as a bridge for me, between pushing to reach new heights professionally, while also maintaining a certain level of self-awareness to ensure I’m staying true to my own ideals and sense of right and wrong. So far, so good.
Explain some of your work-life balance challenges. How do you achieve success in spite of the hustle and bustle? Balancing work schedules, along with the kids’ school and extracurricular activities can sometimes feel like the impossible mission. But, at the end of the day, we always figure out a way to make it work. My wife is superhuman, so that helps. Also, my in-laws are local, and we’re lucky to be able to lean on them at a moment’s notice.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind? I try to work out a few times a week at lunch, which allows me to step away from the stresses of the day for a bit of a mental reset– a bonus of working on a campus with a full fitness center not far from my office. As a family, we enjoy the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium and Zoombezi Bay in the summer. Powell has a couple great craft breweries we’ve enjoyed getting to know with friends, as well: Nocterra and Ill Mannered.
When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up? 3rd Baseman for the New York Mets. I’m still holding out hope.
What might someone be surprised to know about you? I have dual citizenship with the US and Ireland, as a result of my father being an Irish immigrant.
If you could have a superpower, what would you choose? Flying. Avoid traffic, free air travel, and I’ve spent too much of my life staring at impossible to reach light fixtures praying they never burn out.
What would your autobiography be called? “A Tub of Butter” – my mom likes to say that I always end up in a tub butter. I think it’s a reference to good luck, and things always working out for the best. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, or what a tub of butter has to do with it, but it sounds legit, and makes for a great title.
If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would you choose? My dad. He passed away last year, so obviously that would be nice.
What are among the top places you’d recommend to someone who is visiting or new to Columbus? The new National Veterans Memorial and Museum should be on everyone’s list. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, COSI, all our local sports teams and, of course, Ohio Dominican University – Go Panthers!
What organizations are you involved with in the community? I volunteered to coach my daughter’s 5th grade rec basketball team in the Olentangy Youth Athletic Association this winter. I was excited to spend the time with her, but never imagined it would be as much fun as it turned out to be. I have no doubt that I learned more about what it means to be a teammate from those girls than they learned about basketball from me.
Tell us about a community initiative that you’re most passionate about. Between work and two young kids, we don’t have a lot of spare time these days. That said, my wife and I do have a few organizations that we support throughout each year, including The Sandy Hook Promise, the Alzheimer’s Association of America (in honor of my father), and the American Heart Association (via our kids Jump Rope for Heart school initiatives).
What’s the most exciting thing about Columbus right now? We’re thrilled about the Crew staying home, of course! And the Blue Jackets playoff push. Aside from that, the energy and momentum of this city are incredible. I think the most exciting thing is just how forward thinking we are as a city, and the possibilities that come along with that mindset. Not every idea comes to fruition, but it certainly feels like every idea is on the table!
What are three things you wish Columbus had? A passenger rail system, an NBA team, and fewer potholes.
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them? There are no boundaries or limitations to what is possible. It’s a city aspiring to lead, not catch-up.