‘Every student matters at Pacific,’ says new VP of Student Life
Maria Q. Blandizzi is University of the Pacific's newly appointed vice president for student life who will begin August 2. In a recent interview with ASuop President Scout Cooper-Wilson, Blandizzi shared what drew her to Pacific, her philosophy for working with students and why she believes living on campus is important in her role.
Can you share a little about your background in higher education?
Maria Blandizzi: It's good to be with you, Scout, and I am looking forward to working together.
For the past 20 years of my professional career, I've been with the University of California. I have served in roles at UCSF, University of California Office of the President, UC Irvine and most recently UCLA, where I served as dean for students. I'm excited to bring my experience to the Pacific community and actively engage with you, our student leaders and student life staff to bolster the student experience at Pacific.
What inspired you to work in higher education and directly with students?
Maria Blandizzi: My college experience had an incredibly profound impact on my career. I was a resident advisor, campus tour guide and was involved in student government. So, you could say I was highly engaged in my own college experience and I was also a first generation college student.
My mother is an educator and she went back to school to complete her degree. I have personally witnessed the transformative power of education and I think it was this collective set of experiences personally and professionally that inspired me to work in higher education.
I hope to have an open and candid relationship with our students so I can help amplify the student voice and influence policies that meet the needs of our students.
What solidified your decision to lead Pacific’s Office of Student Life?
Maria Blandizzi: First of all, we have an incredible President (Christopher Callahan), who is all in. It is special to have a university president who is so accessible and invested in the campus. His vision for the university is inspiring and that's what first drew me in to thinking about coming here.
I also received several phone calls from colleagues saying you should consider this position because you are such a student-centered professional and this is a student-centered place. The more I learned and read about the legacy of Pacific the more I felt drawn to the community.
It’s also a gorgeous campus and it is accessible. I feel like I can walk around and it feels like home. My family and I loved living in Northern California, and we're looking forward to being part of the Stockton community, not just the Pacific community.
What is important for the Pacific community to know about you?
Maria Blandizzi: I appreciate the question because it means that you're not only interested in having me get to know you all, but you are interested in getting to know me.
I believe that my job is to help each and every student succeed. I want to help students maximize all of the wonderful experiences Pacific has to offer and get to graduation. I do this work in partnership with the staff and the division of student life, with partners across the campus, including our student leaders, faculty and university leaders across the three campuses.
I appreciate candor and honesty. I have an open-door policy and I want to get to know as many students as possible. I want to know what frustrates you, what the university can be doing better and how we can support you. I am here to lift student voices and work in partnership.
I'm going to ask a lot of questions and that's partially because I'm new and because I take my responsibilities seriously. I care deeply about our students. I might ask the same question in a lot of different ways because I want to hear from different perspectives. Hopefully folks will be a little patient with me.
What will your duties be as Vice President of Student Life?
Maria Blandizzi: My role is defined in three different areas. First, is the recruitment and retention of our students in all programs and disciplines. I want to learn what attracted our students to Pacific and how we can collectively communicate that to folks outside the Pacific community. In regards to retention, I want to make sure that each student graduates.
The second area is to think about how we engage our students and build community. What are those places and spaces that make Pacific feel like home? I want each Pacific student to be able to leave their imprint on the campus and be all they want to be.
Along with that is offering high quality services and support structures to help maintain the health and well-being of our students. I know our faculty and administration care deeply about our students and their experiences, which is one of the things that's so attracted me to the Pacific community.
This job is not for the faint of heart and so I am ready to engage and talk about anything and everything so that we can continue to build on the power of the Pacific experience for our students.
What's your philosophy for working with students, and what are the values and goals that guide your approach?
Maria Blandizzi: Let me start with the latter part, I believe that people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Through the ups and downs and all that gets thrown at us as individuals, kindness and care carry a lot of weight. I try to stay grounded and centered so that I can stay true to those values and treat every single person with respect, dignity, kindness, care and understanding.
I see you and I see our students as finding your voice and your way into your next steps post-college and post-degree. My role and my philosophy are to help you identify how you can push yourself to continue developing and exploring all the power you have as an individual to transform the world around you.
Being a part of your life at this moment is special and it’s what helps keep me young. I am always available to support students and work with them to accomplish their dreams.
Maria Blandizzi: I’m so glad you asked me about this. I moved into Calaveras Hall this past weekend and I’m on the second floor in a two-bedroom apartment. I know that it is a choice spot, so I don't take it lightly that I’m in one of the premier residence halls on campus.
My goal is to throw myself into all that the campus has to offer. Some students are going to be wondering, ‘Why is she living in the residence halls?’ I think that's a fair question. But, I’ve done the residence assistant job before and I am not looking to enforce quiet hours. I'm there so that I can be accessible to students.
This is a unique and special time for the university. Being closed for over 15 months, I want to be present to serve our students and have a better understanding of the student experience at Pacific.
What are you looking forward to the most in the upcoming academic year?
Maria Blandizzi: Pacific Roars Back weekend in October is going to be huge. Graduations are my absolute favorite time of year. Move-in is my second favorite, but graduations are first. I have a fabulous robe I love sharing with folks and I'm looking forward to celebrating the students of the classes of 2020 and 2021. It also happens to be my birthday weekend, so it's just going to be a party all around.
I'm also looking forward to Week of Welcome in August when students are coming back to campus. We will be welcoming our traditional first-year class, but also our second-year class that didn't get that Week of Welcome last year. So I'm looking forward to being able to participate in all the student events during that week.
What recommendations would you appreciate as a new Stockton resident?
Maria Blandizzi: You know I love to eat, so I would love to know the places where students recommend going. I'm also impressed by all the Delta waterways. I'm not a big boating person, but that's just intriguing to me.
I’m also wanting to learn how folks enjoy the natural environment around us, as well as the coffee shops and the restaurants.
Scout Cooper-Wilson: Thank you, Maria. I hope that you know any student or community member reading this has gained a lot and now knows that when they see you in a few weeks around campus that they can come prepared with their restaurant recommendations, and just get to know you and talk to you. I can tell that you genuinely care about every student.
Maria Blandizzi: Thank you for the time Scout and I so appreciate you doing this together.