The new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Annmarie Caño, is making her transition to Gonzaga University this academic year under unusual circumstances. After working at Wayne State University as an associate provost for faculty development and success and professor of psychology, Caño looks to the future, and even during this time of COVID-19, she still has big goals for GU.
Here’s a further look at the new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
The Gonzaga Bulletin (GB): How did you end up at GU?
AC: I've been a professor for about over 20 years, and over that time, I took on a number of different leadership positions and I really enjoyed making things happen for other people. At the same time that I was rising up the ranks, I was also getting more involved with the Jesuits in Detroit doing retreats. It became increasingly clear over time that spiritual side of what I was doing outside of work and the actual work at the college that I really wanted those to merge a little bit.
The thought of working at a Jesuit institution was becoming more and more attractive over time. I saw the Gonzaga position open up and did some research, and it looked like a really attractive, exciting place to be and all the things that I was looking for in a position and the process unfolded here I am.
GB: What were some of the obstacles you faced when moving from Detroit to Spokane?
AC: When I accepted the position, COVID-19 wasn't even really a thing, like, in terms of what we knew. I have a sense of solidarity with students who are graduating this last spring because in my mind, I was planning like, ‘Oh, I'm going to have these going away parties, all these people I've known for 20 years, I love them. I've got friends here I want to celebrate and just have a nice ending.' We weren't able to do any of those things that we had wanted to do like all our dreams for how we would complete our time. We couldn't say goodbye to our friends that way we normally did. We had some socially-distance-drive-by-going-away parties and some virtual going away parties. It did feel
surreal moving across the country. We were supposed to move in June, instead we moved in May, because we already had a place to live here. Since everything was remote, it gave us more time to settle in and that was probably a really good thing for us because we were able to explore Spokane and drive around and enjoy nature before my job officially started. It's strange looking back. I'm sure it was more stressful, but somehow, you just do whatever is the next right thing in front of you to do and you get to where you're going.
GB: What are your main goals that you hope to fulfill in your new position?
AC: I have three overarching goals for the college that I'm starting out with, and they build on an already strong foundation that faculty and staff have built in the college. The first is sharpening our academic excellence in the college. That means strengthening interdisciplinary collaborations where faculty and students from different departments in different disciplines work on common projects to solve common problems. Part of it is enhancing the way students can get involved in research opportunities that are meaningful for them.
The second goal is cura personalis for the people in the college. That means providing professional development opportunities that recognize that we're in a time of COVID-19. How do we work effectively, and build teams but also take care of ourselves while we're doing it and having grace for each other as we're all coping with different aspects of the pandemic.
The third is building an inclusive community in the college. One of the ways that we'll be doing that is I'm convening a diversity, equity and inclusion council in the college. We currently do not have one, and I think that's very important. To begin with, I'm inviting faculty and staff to be part of that, and then soon we'll be extending an invitation to students in the college, who would like to be part of it as well, so that we're naming systems or procedures or curriculum even that need attention to be more inclusive.
GU: How can you relate to GU students during this time?
AC: I'm starting at a new place and meeting new people mostly on Zoom. My initial thought was, ‘How am I going to build relationships with people, meet new people, find great collaborators for different projects and find my people when I have to do all of this through a video screen?’I was doubting myself a little bit wondering how that was going to work exactly.
I initially thought, back in March and April when the reality started coming through, ‘this is not fair,’ like all those emotions I think a lot of students were feeling, just frustration, disappointment, sadness, grief and anger. Not anger at GU, but this anger at this virus that seems to have taken over the world. I do think I have been pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to build relationships with people and you can still read people's facial expressions when you're on video and you can still laugh and you can still come up with great ideas to work together.
GB: In this time of COVID-19, you could have easily decided to stay in Michigan. Why did you still decide to continue onto GU to take this position?
AC: That's funny that you should bring that up because a friend of mine actually said that to me, ‘You know, if you told them that there's a pandemic going on, like you've decided not to go anywhere, I'm sure they'll understand.’ And I remember when she told me that I thought, ‘Oh, that is true, I could stay.’ Even though it was an option, it didn't feel like a good option.
One of my specialties when I would work with the Jesuits in Michigan was giving retreats and workshops on good decision-making and the teachings of St. Ignatius and decision-making. When I went over every step of how I found out about the position, applying for the position, my experience being on campus in November and just feeling the energy and the vibrancy, I just felt happy here. This is a great place and I want to be a part of this. When I reviewed all of that, I was like, ‘I'm supposed to be at Gonzaga next.’ I'm going to miss all my friends, and this is a weird time to be moving, but it's still the right choice.