By: Phil Rauch | Managing Editor
SCRANTON – On Jul. 1, 2020, Dr. Michelle Maldonado began her tenure as the new Dean of The College of Arts and Sciences. She replaced Dr. Brian Conniff.
Dr. Maldonado has extensive experience with the Jesuit style of education. She obtained her undergraduate degree at Georgetown University in French Literature with a minor in theology. From there, she attended Union Theological Seminary in a joint program with Columbia University; it was there she obtained a master’s degree in theology. Further, she obtained her PhD in theology at the Graduate Theological Union at the University of California Berkeley.
Dr. Maldonado’s first teaching position was at Loyola Marymount University, teaching there for three years. It was her tenure at LMU where she first heard of the University of Scranton.
“I had heard of the University of Scranton, obviously through the Jesuit network of universities. But when I applied, the University was not on my radar, and frankly neither was Northeastern Pennsylvania. I knew people who worked here, had friends whose kids had attended here, and I had heard such great things about the university, its commitment to mission, and its community. It was a huge part of the draw,” Dr. Maldonado explained.
After working at Loyola Marymount University, Dr. Maldonado took a position as a professor of religious studies at the University of Miami, and additionally served as an Assistant Provost there. She worked there for 14 years, and began doing administrative work for roughly four years at Miami. Miami is Dr. Maldonado’s hometown.
“I’m from Miami originally. It is my hometown. It’s a great university, but it’s a secular university. So, having been trained where I was, being at Loyola Marymount, I really started to miss being at a Jesuit university. I wanted to be at a place that was committed to mission as part of its identity and decision-making,” Dr. Maldonado said of her reasoning to return to a Jesuit university.
The College of Arts and Sciences, and the University broadly, is in the midst of developing its strategic plan. A strategic plan is a layout for the aspirations the college has for the next five years. We asked Dr. Maldonado what specifics she has in mind for the strategic plan.
“My goal is really to be forward-thinking and think about some of the things that are important to us as a community in light of our contemporary context. A few things, as Father Pilarz highlighted, is an emphasis on the humanities and looking at that as a core element of who we are and what we offer at the University. The college is the home of that. At the same time, most of the majors in the college are STEM students. So, we’re also looking at strengthening our STEM programs. I think it’s fantastic that we have research opportunities for students, and that they’re able to do things as undergraduates in a hands-on way. How we encourage and cultivate that more is important to me, as is also diversity and inclusion. At Miami, a lot of my work was with historically underrepresented groups and first generation students. How can we become a more diverse faculty, a more diverse student body, and really engage the community more as well.”
Dr. Maldonado also rose to this position under unique circumstances: a global pandemic. Most colleges and universities are learning on their feet, adapting to new realities, and finding ways to best progress through a pandemic. Being a first time Dean, Dr. Maldonado laid out the main challenge she foresees not being able to do things fully in-person.
“I think a huge challenge for all of us at the University, and universities across the country, but for us in particular, because community is such a big part of who we are and how we are, is finding ways of maintaining and cultivating that community during the pandemic; it’s important to make sure our first year students get a sense of the University, its values, and what it’s really like to be here. A little bit like me, they’re going through this very odd orientation into the University their first semester.
Dr. Maldonado has had extensive experience in both the teaching and administrative sides of academia. While she is not teaching this semester, she is hoping to be teaching introductory level courses in theology for the spring 2021 semester.