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ONE-ON-ONE with Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado, Ph.D., Dean of CAS

ONE-ON-ONE with Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado, Ph.D., Dean of CAS

Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado, Ph.D. joined The University of Scranton as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences on July 1. Previously, she served as assistant provost of undergraduate education at the University of Miami, where she also served as the executive director of the Office of Academic Enhancement and as a professor of religious studies. She is the editor, co-author or author of 10 books and has published more than 40 articles in academic journals and book chapters. You can also view her TED Talk on Latina Intellectuals, here.  

We caught up with her recently to learn more about what she has in store for students and how she’s finding her new home.

You arrived here from Miami this summer. Welcome to Scranton! How are you finding the area so far?

My family and I really love it. We are all struck by the natural beauty around us and have been taking advantage of all the amazing hiking trails and parks in the area. The University community has been so welcoming, and so has everyone we have met in the area. We have also been exploring Scranton’s Latino/a community. The city is much more diverse than people often assume. Now that it is starting to get colder we are not hiking as much, though we are still taking advantage of what many have told me is a mild fall, which is hard to believe for this former Floridian.


"I am so pleased when faculty and students commend the safe environment we all created in collaboration with each other."


Tell us what it's been like to make this big change during the pandemic.

The pandemic has made things a bit surreal, to be honest. In some ways, it has made my transition smoother because I had to dive into the preparations for the fall and was able to meet a lot of people quickly as we collaborated together. I continue to be impressed at how many people have worked so hard to get us back on campus.

I think I speak for everyone now when I say that I feel relieved and blessed that we made it through the fall semester, and I am so pleased when faculty and students commend the safe environment we all created in collaboration with each other. These moments really test our community and its resilience, and though new here I feel that we have grown closer together with that shared goal. In spite of the disruptions of the pandemic, I feel a part of the University, and proud of who we are and our compassion for our students, faculty and staff.

What are you most looking forward to in your new position as dean of CAS?

I am looking forward to working more closely with faculty. With the upcoming review of our General Education requirements, this is an exciting moment to join the University community as we revisit and refine who we are and what we offer our students intellectually. Universities are sites of research, innovation, and creativity, and this all begins with our faculty. I also think we are at a significant historical moment, with the upcoming election, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the pandemic, where we can focus on Mission-driven initiatives that help our community understand and respond to the challenges of the world around them.

During the fall semester, we have moved forward on several initiatives. I hosted two faculty discussions on anti-racism work and pedagogy, we invited Dr. Anthea Butler to speak about Anti-Racism Work in Jesuit Universities, and we partnered with the Office of Community Relations to host a conversation with Glynis Johns, founder of the Black Scranton project. I was personally thrilled to be invited by the Office of Equity and Diversity to host a Lunch and Learn on “A Catholic Response to the Sin of Racism,” which discussed Church documents that explicitly address racism here in the United States. I have also initiated college-wide conversations about our mission and strategic plan, involving faculty, students and staff. Our starting point has been to emphasize the strengths of our college, and it has been wonderful to hear different groups reflect on the impact the faculty has both inside and outside the classroom. I have also asked faculty to share some samples of their research with me, and it is such a humbling experience to learn about their passions, innovations and creativity.


"My Jesuit education taught me to recognize that my worldview is one of many and that I must be open to, listen to, and be challenged by the diversity of our humanity, whether it is our intellectual diversity, political diversity, racial diversity and/or socioeconomic diversity."


You're a scholar of religious studies and you are Jesuit educated yourself. What excites you most about being part of a Catholic/Jesuit University?

I am most excited about being at a Jesuit University that is earnestly committed to its mission. My Jesuit education taught me to recognize that my worldview is one of many and that I must be open to, listen to, and be challenged by the diversity of our humanity, whether it is our intellectual diversity, political diversity, racial diversity and/or socioeconomic diversity. The University’s commitment to social justice is also extremely important to me, especially today as we as a nation struggle with naming and addressing systemic racism. A University education is one of the most significant forms of empowerment, not only for us but for our communities. I should also add that as a theologian I am thrilled to be back at a University where the study of religion is valued as a core component of the curriculum.

You have experience working with/on behalf of, historically underrepresented and first-generation college students. Can you tell us why this is important to you/how you can contribute at Scranton?

Working with historically underrepresented and first-generation college students is a core passion that defines me as an administrator, a scholar, and a teacher.  As a Cuban-American daughter of political refugees, I had to figure out the college application process and then college itself on my own. I think it is important to remember that our students (and faculty and staff) come from diverse backgrounds and that some may need more support navigating through our University. I hope that our first-generation and historically underrepresented students see me as an ally who is here as a resource and an advocate.   

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