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Maria Cruz-Saco, dean of the college, is impressed by Wesleyan students’ involvement outside of the classroom.
 
Posted 10.01.05

Dean of the College Wants Students, Faculty to Bond Outside of Classroom

It didn’t take long to settle in.

In just two months, Maria Cruz-Saco has begun spearheading residential life and student programming initiatives. She’s also creating a new position to oversee diversity and multicultural learning environments on campus and seeking ways to improve current student services.

As the new dean of the college, Cruz-Saco oversees the Class Deans, Student Academic Resources, Student Services and Campus Programs. The latter includes Residential Life, Student Activities and Leadership Development, International Student Services, the Office of Community Service and Volunteerism, university chaplains, the University Health Center, and the Office of Behavioral Health.

“I’m constantly concerned with the well being of the student population,” Cruz-Saco says.

Born in Peru, Cruz-Saco earned her bachelor’s of arts at the Universidad del Pacífico in Lima, Peru, in 1979 and her Ph.D. in economics at the University of Pittsburgh in 1983. She has authored three books, co-edited one, and contributed many articles and chapters to professional journals and books. She’s an expert in social protection and the reform of social security systems with a regional emphasis in Latin America and the Caribbean.

However, over the last few years her career has focused more on the administrative side of academics. Before coming to Wesleyan she served as interim dean at Connecticut College. Her other leadership positions there included chair of the economics department, chair of the Priorities, Planning and Budget Committee, member of the Grievances Committee, and member of the faculty steering committee of the Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy. In addition, in 2002-03, she chaired the Presidential Commission on a Pluralistic Community charged with delineating Connecticut College’s vision for a multicultural experience and inclusive excellence.

“After learning about Wesleyan’s structure and core values, I got the sense that Wesleyan could be a good fit for me,” she says. “My own vision and values are very similar, and that is what attracted me.”

Cruz-Saco says she is most impressed by Wesleyan students’ involvement outside of the classroom. She notes the students’ interest in helping victims of Hurricane Katrina and their support and care given to accident victim Rachel Soriano ’06. Soriano was struck by a car on Church Street Sept. 10 and remains in critical but stable condition at Hartford Hospital.

“The students here are so committed to imprinting the world with a sense of social justice and a hope to make the world a better place for every body,” she says.

Cruz-Saco is also interested in direct input from students and staff on a regular basis. She holds office hours for students every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. She also meets with class deans and her direct reports once a week. She’s also a member of the university's senior staff.

"We are thinking afresh about how we link students' academic experiences with their lives in the community and about how we can take full advantage of the diversity of student experience as a resource for learning,” says Wesleyan President Douglas Bennet. “Wesleyan is also strengthening our residential life and student programming. Maria will provide strong leadership in all these areas.”

One way Cruz-Saco will be doing is this by developing a new position – a dean to oversee all cultural diversity initiatives and multicultural learning support services. The dean would partner with the Center for Faculty Development and Affirmative Action Office. The dean would ensure that faculty had the resources to teach multicultural classrooms.

“In our diverse community students have different learning styles and interests. The educational experience in- and out-of-the-classroom is enhanced by programs that support the teaching and learning in an environment that integrates in a seamlessly way academic and co-curricular activities,” Cruz-Saco says. “We support the educational enterprise through a number of student academic support services.”

She and her husband, Alejandro Melendez-Cooper, have three boys, Martin, 17; Claudio, 12; and Adrian, 9.
 
By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor