Heather Lobban-Viravon, currently senior associate to the president at SUNY Geneseo in New York, will be joining the Ursinus community on July 1, taking over the role of special assistant to Ursinus College president Brock Blomberg, after English professor Meredith Goldsmith joins the Dean’s Office. Editor Valerie Osborne spoke with Lobban-Viravon about her hopes in her upcoming role as special assistant.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
So prior to coming to my current position, I was at Grinnell College, where I was a faculty member in the English Department. While still a faculty member I moved into the administration and served as an Associate Dean for about five years and then that led to my current position here at SUNY Geneseo [senior associate to the president]. So, doing work as an Associate Dean at Grinnell, I was responsible for things relating to faculty development [and] guiding academic department reviews. I served on the personnel committee as secretary to that body. I guess in some ways the work that I did there really fueled my interest in continuing to serve as an administrator, and I ultimately decided to leave Grinnell and pursue other opportunities.
And you said your background is in English: How has that influenced your current role?
It’s 18th-century English literature actually, and I don’t know if it’s the work itself in that period that really influenced my current role. I just know that as a result of being a faculty member and then becoming chair of the English department when I was at Grinnell, it was that role that ultimately . . . provided . . . a path I guess that peaked my interest in serving as an administrator. There were just some issues that came up when I was [department] chair that I felt really passionate about as it related to my colleagues in the English department. I really wanted to serve as an advocate for them and I felt I wanted an opportunity to do that even in a broader way for the larger campus. So that’s kind of how that all started for me in terms of taking an administrative role.
What role will you be taking on at Ursinus? What will your responsibilities be?
So, my role will be as special assistant to the [Ursinus] president [Brock Blomberg], and my responsibilities will fall in a number of areas. One having to do with diversity and inclusion: working with the campus community to move the conversation and move the campus in terms of its work in that area. And hopefully I will bring some things that will help move [that conversation] in some good directions. So [there are also] some responsibilities for connecting with the larger community, the community beyond the campus . . . Making sure to build good relationships [with the larger community], I certainly want to do that on campus as well, but certainly building relationships with local leaders and the community more broadly so that we can establish and identify ways to build partnerships with the college and the community. Partnerships that will be beneficial both to our students and certainly faculty and staff as well.
Do you have any plans in mind on how you would like to strengthen the campus community or the campus’ relationship with the external community?
Well you know, I think certainly finding avenues for more conversation would be good. I know that on the campus itself at Ursinus there’s a lot of that happening now. I think building on [what’s happening now] will be very important. But in regard to the community beyond the campus, I think finding opportunities for more dialogue; finding opportunities to establish more connections; and again, going back to the issue of building relationships, I think that it’s important to find ways to build relationships so that the campus community but also the larger community feels as if there is an extension of support, even a kind of alliance, between the two communities . . . I think it’s important for me to come find out more about what’s already happening and [subsequently identify] ways to . . . build on that work and then [identify] new ways to do some other things that could move conversation but also move the entire community, both the campus and the larger community, in very good directions.
What are you most excited about coming into Ursinus?
That’s a great question. Well, I’m excited to get to know the students. I’m excited to get to know the faculty and the staff. I’m excited [to begin] finding opportunities for connecting with all of those constituencies . . . talking with them and finding out what the issues are. What are . . . some areas that they think need some work and [in what] areas [they would like] to see more growth. I’m really just excited about getting to know the community, getting to know the folks on the campus and figuring out ways to establish and build good relationships and do things that will make everyone feel like Ursinus is definitely a great place to be. And I’m sure there’s some of that already, but building on that I think is really important.
At Ursinus, our first-year seminar is the Common Intellectual Experience. I don’t know if anyone’s told you about that, but it’s a class that every first-year student takes and in the class, students are asked four questions and the main question is “How should we live our lives?” So, I was just wondering if you could answer that question. How do you think we should live our lives?
How should we live our lives? Well, I think we should live our lives as authentically as possible. I think we should live in ways that is about building good relationships, getting to know others in ways that expand our views and our ways of thinking about the world. [We should be] doing what we can . . . to foster good relationships . . . not just with the folks who are around us, our immediate friends or family, but certainly beyond that as well. So, just living as authentically as possible and finding good ways to get to know others.
Is there anything that you would like to add that you would want the campus to know about you?
Well, I guess what I want to say, and maybe it echoes something that I’ve said already, but . . . I really am looking forward to [getting to] know the community: the students, the faculty of course, the staff certainly. Getting to know them in ways that will hopefully help shape the work that I do at the institution and shape it in ways that will lead to good outcomes for all involved. When I say good outcomes, I mean just in terms of fostering an environment that is supportive . . . I’m [all] about building relationships and finding ways to move those relationships and those conversations in good directions. I just want everyone to know that I will work as hard as possible on behalf of the community and its members and I look forward to partnering with students, faculty, and staff to get the work done.