Hillary Zaken, Julie Tonnesen begin new roles in the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life

Reverend Julie Tonnesen is now associate university chaplain and Hillary Zaken will serve as interim assistant dean of Multifaith Engagement in the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life.

Elon University’s Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life has announced staffing changes that will strengthen and support religious and spiritual life and encourage growth and greater multifaith understanding across campus.

Hillary Zaken will be leaving her role in Jewish Life and taking on new responsibilities as the interim assistant dean of Multifaith Engagement. In this new role, Zaken will be providing key leadership as the Truitt Center team works to strengthen and integrate multifaith learning and engagement opportunities across campus.

Reverend Julie Tonnesen ’14 will be moving into the role of associate university chaplain. Tonnesen will be responsible for providing support to and leadership for Elon’s religious and spiritual communities. She will maintain responsibility for Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Friends (LEAF), and co-leadership of the Spirit and Pride initiative.

Zaken will step into her new role on August 1, and Tonnesen began work in her new position on May 1.

Reverend Julie Tonnesen, Reverend Kirstin Boswell, Hillary Zaken“As a team leader in a rapidly changing industry, I am so often looking at hiring new staff members to meet the needs of our students. While this is important, it is also extremely gratifying to be able to move current colleagues into new roles where their talents and expertise will be even better utilized,” said Reverend Kirstin Boswell, university chaplain and dean of Multifaith Engagement.

“I see this reconfiguration of the Truitt Center team as a tremendous opportunity to begin the academic year on strong footing. Hillary and Julie are knowledgeable, passionate and driven higher-education professionals, and I am convinced that they will excel in their respective roles,” Boswell added.

Zaken has served as the assistant director of Jewish Life since 2017, where she created and implemented comprehensive communications and development strategy that has helped transform Jewish Life at Elon. She has worked to mentor and empower Jewish students, led campus-wide events, and build strong relationships with campus and community stakeholders.

“I am passionate about inclusion, and am fully dedicated to helping build and foster equitable communities where we can connect over difference while honoring and affirming individuality,” shared Zaken. “I am excited to be a part of the Truitt Center leadership team, and thrilled to continue to mentor students to success and empower them to shape their own spiritual journeys.”

A 2014 Elon graduate of Elon, Tonnesen returned to Elon in 2016 as the LEAF campus minister and has been the Spirit and Pride coordinator since 2020. Tonnesen helped LEAF to gain a critical mass by clarifying the group’s mission and then implementing innovative and welcoming programming to boost participation and engagement. Alongside partners in the GLC, she has been a strong mentor for the Spirit and Pride intern cohort.

“In my new role as associate university chaplain, I am most excited about getting to work with a wider range of students and staff.  The folks I’ve gotten to know through LEAF and Spirit and Pride have been nothing short of amazing, so I am excited to meet folks connected to other communities on campus,” Tonnesen shared.

Both Zaken and Tonnesen are passionate about fostering welcoming, judgment-free spaces where students can ask tough questions, and look forward to ensuring that students, faculty and staff of all and no religious traditions can feel seen, heard and respected.

“As a storyteller, I want to create opportunities for students to write their own stories, in their own words. And it is my hope to share the stories of the Truitt Center with the entire campus community so we can encourage greater understanding of the world’s ethical and religious traditions,” Zaken said.

Tonnesen also wants students to know that she will be present for them, and will work to make all religious, spiritual, and ethical spaces safer and more equitable and inclusive, particularly for folks who have been harmed by these spaces.

“Because I understand religion, spirituality, and our worldviews as connected to all parts of our lives, instead of being an isolated part of their own, I want students to know that I am here and eager to support them in any and all aspects of their lives,” Tonnesen said.