by Kelly Welsh ’05 (M.A.)
Somewhat unknowingly, Zenobia Hargust, Saint Joseph’s new chief human resources officer, started her career early in her college years.
As an undergraduate psychology major at West Chester University, Hargust worked full time at a bank, putting in 30 to 35 hours per week on top of her studies and involvement on campus. Through her coursework in organizational psychology, Hargust honed a curiosity about workplace dynamics and an astute sensitivity to inconsistencies she was experiencing in her organizational culture.
“All bank employees attended a two-week orientation at headquarters. There was a great deal of energy spent on on-boarding, setting expectations and acclimating new hires to the bank’s culture,” Hargust explains. “But the minute I returned to my branch, everything I learned seemed irrelevant. I had managers telling me, ‘That’s not how it really works.’”
A natural human resources professional even before earning her degree, Hargust began asking questions and doing what she could to mitigate the divide between what the organization wanted to be and how employees were living the mission.
Hargust poured herself even deeper into her studies, combining some education courses that sparked a passion for training. By senior year, she landed what was supposed to be an internship as an HR specialist, but turned into a full-time offer well before graduation.
For over a decade, Hargust, a native of the West Oak section of Philadelphia, has been at the helm of organizational cultures, mostly in the non-profit sector. She cites a desire to work for enterprises where people find meaning in their work. Early in her career she was a member of the HR staff at Lutheran Children and Family Service of PA and The Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center for Jewish Life. In 2011, she earned a master’s degree in human resource management from Walden University. In 2013, she made the move to higher education, accepting a position in HR at Swarthmore College.
“Higher ed was a change of pace,” Hargust admits. “Things move a little slower because the culture is very consensus-based. But I learned to love the process of decision-making that was unique to this sector. I realize how much more complete decisions are and how the tone and tenor change when diverse voices weigh in. I also see how much more sustainable change is when there’s an intentional and inclusive process.”
The position at Saint Joseph’s University felt like a natural progression for Hargust. Her time at Swarthmore solidified her passion for higher education and for the last four years, she’s been a leader in the space, serving as the Pennsylvania/Delaware Board President of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.
Hargust says that her early interactions on campus formed strong impressions of a community whose values align with her own.
“There were great synergies when I came to campus and began meeting with members of the community,” says Hargust. “I was immediately intrigued by the strategic vision of Dr. Reed and enthusiasm of the HR team to drive important conversations and strategy.”
Former colleague Pamela Prescod-Caesar, vice president for human resources at Swarthmore College, says that Hargust’s openness to continual learning is among her greatest strengths, along with her gift for nurturing relationships.
“I’m attracted to organizations with strong missions, like SJU.”
— Zenobia Hargust
“Professionalism, competence and heart are the quintessential qualities that speak to the essence of Zenobia’s leadership,” Prescod-Caesar adds. “She imagines and strives to create the ultimate workplace where evolving institutional needs are aligned with, and supported effectively by, a talented workforce.
For Hargust, community development and talent management are topline priorities as she takes the lead in HR at Saint Joseph’s. “I look forward to helping the University attract leading professionals and to building strong relationships with the president’s office, the provost’s office and student life to ensure that all constituents are aligned and engaged.”
Having spent almost her entire career working for faith-based organizations, Hargust doesn’t need to look hard to see common threads.
“I’m attracted to organizations with strong missions, like SJU,” she asserts. “And regardless of their faith affiliation, I am drawn to places where honoring humanity is baked in.”
Kelly Welsh is executive director of communications at Saint Joseph’s University.