Maria-Judith Rodriguez joined Antioch University as the institution’s first Vice Chancellor of Human Resources on March 15, 2021. This interview, conducted during late March, is Maria-Judith’s first introduction to many of you but we know it won’t be the last. Common Thread is so pleased to share our new Vice Chancellor’s initial thoughts. Her full CV can be found here. Her Antioch email is [email protected]. Feel free to send a welcome!
Q: There are always pushes and pulls that frame peoples’ decisions about leaving organizations or joining others. I am sure that many Common Thread readers are wondering why you would leave Amherst College? And why Antioch, at this time in your professional/personal journey?
My decision to leave Amherst College was two-pronged: first, a need to relocate to the West Coast due to a job opportunity for my husband, and, second, a desire to join a higher education institution with a strong mission and values. While researching what my next career step would be and the kind of institution I wanted to join, the role of Vice Chancellor for Human Resources and Antioch’s commitment to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion seemed very much aligned to my personal values and my approach to HR work.
Q: What about Antioch University do you find most compelling and intriguing? What has surprised you the most through this application/interview process?
I was most intrigued about Antioch’s history and the education model, meeting students where they are while encouraging across the board out-of-the-box thinking. Through the interview process, I learned about the challenges and opportunities the institution has and the plans to address them while embracing transformational change, something many will consider uncommon in higher ed. As the conversations advanced, I felt more and more curious and excited about the possibility to join Antioch’s leadership and be part of this particular time in the history of the University.
Q: When you think of your prior experiences – professionally or personally – what do you feel have been those that have prepared you most for this new adventure?
During my career as an HR professional, I have had extraordinary opportunities to work with different companies and higher-ed institutions, at different levels of the organization and in various industries, and with a number of amazing community-based organizations. In all these walks, I have worked alongside caring and compassionate people who have been mentors and role models for what it means to find my purpose while lifting others, staying true to myself and what is important to me. These experiences have shaped the person I am and it is reflected in my leadership style and the ways I engage with others. I believe Antioch University will benefit from my experiences and resulting learnings, and my own interest in pursuing and fostering fairness and respect, strategic thinking, and innovation.
Q: I wonder what you are most curious about as you join us and how do you imagine learning about us? What will be some of your first steps?
As any new hire, I am using my first weeks with Antioch to absorb the culture and learn as much as I can from every single person with whom I have the opportunity to interact. I am participating in meetings with individuals and groups to learn more about ongoing work and gathering perspectives on the work culture while paying special attention to areas where the Office of Human Resources can partner and collaborate with others to advance positive changes. I am also thinking about other ways to learn and gather feedback from staff and faculty, including communications, surveys, office hours, and so forth. I’ll share much more on this in the near future.
Q: Obviously none of us has ever faced a pandemic and the toll on faculty and staff personally and professionally is overwhelming. We don’t know how long nor what we will be facing in the future. What do you think is the work of HR in helping our workforce in this historic moment and also in the post-pandemic return?
There is no question that this pandemic and the pain and suffering as a result of it has impacted all of us in many ways and on many levels. The last 13 months have also been full of learnings, and it is upon all of us to use what we have learned to improve ourselves, our workplaces, and the world we live in. I think HR has a unique opportunity to lead, guide, and support the institution in embracing new ways of thinking about work and the kind of workplace we want to be, now and in the future.
Q: Throughout the course of the application process, you heard a lot and were asked many questions about HR as an advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion. We don’t just want to have a great mission. We want to live it as a workplace. How can HR be an advocate and active participant in this work?
I believe Human Resources can play a very important role in advancing institutional change and promoting the implementation of policies and practices that support a more diverse, welcoming, inclusive, and affirming working, teaching and learning place for everyone. I am particularly encouraged by Chancellor Groves’ commitment to anti-racism work, to engage in honest self-assessment, and to take corrective action and affirmative steps for Antioch to become an anti-racist university. I am also looking forward to joining the efforts of the Anti-Racism Task Force to accomplish this goal.
Q: What would you like our readers to know about you that they might not know from your CV?
I think I would want them to know that I am a proud born and raised Puerto Rican, who madly loves her husband, kids, and family, who enjoys reading fiction, biking, the sea, baseball, and dancing salsa; and who believes we should be grounded on strong values, be active members of our communities and do our part as citizens of the world.
Laurien Alexandre, PhD is Special Advisor to the Chancellor and Provost of Antioch University’s Graduate School of Leadership and Change. Since its founding in 1852, Antioch University has stayed at the forefront of social justice, inclusion, and equality for all people, regardless of ethnicity, gender, creed, orientation, or ability.