The University of Missouri has changed tremendously over the past two decades – from new athletic facilities and a transformed Student Center to a renovated and expanded Rec Complex and much more. As the campus has changed, the Mizzou student body has evolved along with it. Dr. Jeffrey Zeilenga has had a front row seat to the university’s evolution since coming to Mizzou in 1994.
Dr. Zeilenga, or “Dr. Z,” as many students call him, has advised numerous MU student organizations, including Graduate Professional Council, over the years. He was named Dean of Students in July 2017.
Zeilenga says he interacts with students every single day that he comes into work. It’s these interactions, he says, that give him a different perspective of his role as a campus leader.
“Before we make major decisions, it’s important to understand what our students think,” Zeilenga says. What worked five years ago may not work today. Our students continue to change and evolve, so we have to change and evolve as well.”
As Dean of Students, Zeilenga is responsible for Residential Life, MizzouRec, the Missouri Student Unions, and the offices of Student Engagement, Student Accountability & Support and Fraternity and Sorority Life.
“I absolutely love my team, the folks I work with. That’s probably why I would have a hard time going anywhere else,” says Zeilenga.
In addition to his involvement as a staff member, the Chicago native is also a three-time Mizzou parent. His oldest son received a bachelor’s degree in business and an MBA from MU, while his middle son completed a bachelor’s degree in biology at MU before leaving for medical school. Zeilenga’s daughter is currently finishing a master’s degree in public affairs at MU.
“I encouraged all of my kids to think about going someplace else and not coming here,” he says. “They did campus visits, and the MU campus tour just blew them away.”
While Zeilenga has seen the university through the eyes of his children, he has also experienced some of its more iconic changes firsthand. He was present for the construction of the MU Student Center and became fast friends with Mort Walker. Walker and his Beetle Bailey cartoon character are immortalized in Mort’s, a restaurant located in the MU Student Center.
“For several years while we were building the student center, I would fly out to Stamford, Connecticut, and Mort and I would have lunch together,” says Zeilenga. “We would always just have a great time. I’d have to say that was a highlight.”
Attending a large university like Mizzou gives students a competitive advantage after graduation, he says. “The opportunities to get involved and learn leadership skills are limitless on this campus,” Zeilenga says. “These experiences help you develop transferable career skills to build your resume and ultimately find employment.”