Leaders on Leadership with Beatriz Gonzalez

Leaders on Leadership featuring Dr. Beatriz González, President of Miami Dade College

March 2022

Episode Transcript

Jay Lemons:

Hello, and thank you for listening. I’m Jay Lemons, welcome to Leaders on Leadership, brought to you by Academic Search and the American Academic Leadership Institute. The purpose of our podcast is to share the stories of the people and the forces that have shaped leaders in higher education and to learn more about their thoughts on leadership in the academy. I am delighted to be joined today by Dr. Beatriz González. Beatriz is the President of Miami Dade College, the Wolfson campus, a post she has held since 2019.

Prior to that, she held senior administrative posts at the University of Laverne in California and St. Thomas University in Florida. She’s an ACE fellow, an E. Kika de la Garza fellow, and the recipient of the 2017 Woman of Distinction award for California’s 41st assembly district, for her efforts in promoting educational access and quality. Beatriz is a licensed mental health counselor in the state of Florida and began her career as a certified teacher and counselor in the Miami Dade County public schools. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English, a master’s in counseling, and her Ph.D. in leadership in education.

She’s been a featured speaker and a panelist for Excellencia in Education, the Alliance for Hispanic Serving Institution Educators, and for our own parent organization, the American Academic Leadership Institute, which is where I had the good fortune and the pleasure of sharing a meal and working with her. You have a wonderful personal presence, Beatriz, and I’m really delighted that you are willing to be our guest today, so welcome to you.

Beatriz González:

Thank you so much, Jay, that was a very kind introduction, I really appreciate it, and I’m so happy to be speaking with you again.

Jay Lemons:

Likewise. I already alluded to this, you were very generous and open with me in sharing some of your personal story, a really compelling family story, and I think it is a story that I’d like others to hear, if you’re if you’re willing to share it.

Beatriz González:

Sure, and I want to say, you’re such a great listener and asked so many questions to follow up about the story, so I appreciate that, that you wanted to know more about me and my family, so thank you for that. I was born in Havana, Cuba, and I came to the United States with my parents when I was three years old. My parents left Cuba fleeing communism, and I would say that fact has been fundamental to my family narrative as well as a recurring theme in my own development, and really part of my frame of reference for life.

For one thing, my parents always referred to us as people in exile, as did most Cubans who emigrated from the island, so I understood myself as an immigrant, but also as having an identity beyond that, carrying a certain responsibility to make their sacrifice mean something. Growing up, I did not have memory of my life in Cuba, but I knew it was where my parents met, fell in love, were married and had children, with all the hope that every couple does those things. But then I knew they also tore themselves away from this land that they love to live in freedom, and I think that my understanding of that transition was nuanced too because of the way it went down, the way my family ended up leaving and their situation on the island before they left.

That sense of nuance is something I carry with me, in terms of always looking for the contours of the situation, “Yeah, it’s that, but it’s also this.” I think having that point of view helped me figure things out, but what I mean by that is that my parents started with great hope for the revolution in Cuba. As young, proud citizens of Cuba, they felt that their beautiful homeland had been exploited and bastardized by Batista and foreign capitalists. As a university student, my dad participated in protests against the Batista government, and he was very hopeful that a Fidel-led movement would bring sovereignty back to Cuba, but that is not how it turned out.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, as they say, and soon Cuba became a totalitarian state. Over the next several years after the revolution in ’59, my parents realized that the future was not going to be what they expected. My dad had a direct relationship with the highest levels of government, because he reported to Che Guevara, who was Fidel’s right-hand man, and as a young architect, my dad was in charge of infrastructure projects, and Che was his boss. He learned very quickly firsthand that there actually was very little regard for the people, that they were merely viewed as chattel, as vehicles for the government to accomplish its aims.

Little by little, as their freedoms eroded, including religion and choice of education, as they saw their children being indoctrinated to not know God, they knew that they had to leave. My dad left first, they feared that he would be enlisted in the army and sent away, as what was happening with a lot of Cuban young men. We were separated for a while, for about a year, and like most people or many stories that you hear of people leaving their homeland, we left with the clothes on our backs. Something I didn’t mention that night we talked, my dad’s diplomas were smuggled out for him, and they had dozens of tiny creases in them because of the many folds that had to be put in the paper so that the diploma could get smuggled out.

You can imagine what a constant reminder that was for me then later, once he had it and it was behind a frame, but all those little creases were there, what a reminder of the responsibility again to make their sacrifice worth it. My family was very fortunate compared to others, because I had a grandmother who was very unusual for a woman of her time. She left Cuba in the ’50s to pursue writing as a poet, and she published poetry in New York, and so because she was in the US, she was able eventually to claim my dad, and she had a choice, my dad or my grandfather, and she chose my dad. Then eventually, my dad was able to claim us, and eventually we were reunited in Mexico, and moved then together to the US.

We lived in Brooklyn and Queens when I was a kid growing up, and then eventually we moved to Miami. That’s kind of the story, but I think that that exile experience, I think it’s true that sometimes, not always, people in that position end up having maybe even a deeper appreciation for your adopted land than maybe some of its own native children. My parents continually reminded me that I was very fortunate to have an education of my choice, and not one that was told what I had to study. I was repeatedly told that this is the greatest country in the world, and that all you have to do is work hard and you’ll get your just rewards.

Of course, as I grew older and experienced life, I saw that wasn’t always so, that there is inequality and injustice, but I think that only led me to deepen a commitment to make the promise of America a reality. I think that’s why I chose education and counseling, because that’s part of what education and counseling does, it sheds a light on things, whether it’s bigotry or injustice, whatever it might be. That’s, I think, probably the seed of where all that comes from, and I think I was also very aware that I had advantages. Like my dad had gone to college, and so I always had the sense of, “Okay, well, I need to give back, I’m luckier than most people.” That expression, “lift as we climb”, if you’ve heard it, that’s always in the back of my mind.

Jay Lemons:

Wow, thank you again for your willingness to share. If I’m remembering correctly, you still have your dad.

Beatriz González:


Jay Lemons:

I can’t help, as we record this in January of ’22, wonder about your dad’s interpretation of the events of a year ago in DC. Our democracy, as you just noted, continues to be rife and filled with inequities and imperfections. How does your dad, someone who really gave up the life that he knew and sacrificed much to try and create opportunity for you, so I’d love to hear you reflect a little bit on being in the middle of your dad’s generation and that of your sons.

Beatriz González:

It’s very complicated, especially here in Miami, where there are so many Cuban exiles, and they really span such great ages now, as well as periods of when they came and what their feelings are about Cuba, and feelings about the United States. I don’t really think anymore there’s a Cuban immigrant ethos, just one anymore…

Jay Lemons:

That’s right.

Beatriz González:

It’s a very big continuum. I would say my parents at the start of things were probably much more liberal than others. Then the situation with Elian came, the young boy who was sent back to Cuba, and that was so personal for them because they had done the opposite, they had taken their children out of Cuba to have freedom. That felt so personal for them and hurt them so much, that then they became much more conservative, and, “We need to fight this fight even harder,” and he was very concerned about me going to Cuba. I worked for a Catholic university for while that was engaged in a project called The Reconciliation of the Church in Cuba, and really not trying to get political, but more about sharing resources, having a library about religious topics, that’s what it was about.

There was some talk for a while that through the university, I might go to Cuba to help them stand this up. My dad was very concerned that I’d go, he was very concerned of what might happen to me there, he has been very firm about, there should not be relations now after Elian. My point of view is different, in that I do think cultural exchanges, educational exchanges, that’s how people on the island know what freedom looks like. To shut all that down I don’t think is the best approach either, I think there has to be some communication and people seeing what could be in order for they themselves to want that and to fight for it in their own land.

There’s definitely a difference of opinion, however, in terms of what happened during our last national election, even though my dad has a tad more of a conservative point of view, he’s also really good at spotting demagogues now. He’s, “Hey, be careful, in a minute, something could happen. You think you’re safe here, you think your democracy is safe, watch out,” that you always have to be protecting your democracy. I think that he always communicates that point of view too, not to take it for granted because it can so easily be taken away without really even noticing, it’s insidious that way.

Jay Lemons:

Well, it is the great American experiment in democracy, and one that is ongoing. Again, I’d flip it, go from your dad to your children.

Beatriz González:

My son is way on the more liberal side, he is, “Things should be shared, information should be flowing.” Children who’ve grown up in a digital world, where all this information is so free flowing, it’s interesting. Things that we think are remarkable and make a big deal about it, for example, athletes who now are protecting their mental health, and they’re just like, “Oh, we salute them, because, yes, it’s important to take care of yourself and not sacrifice your whole being for your sport or work,” or something like that. My son said to me over the holidays, “I don’t get it,” and I know he was being facetious in a sense, because he does get why, but, “I don’t get it, why are they making such a big deal about it? That’s the way it should be, people should take care and protect themselves and their wellness.”

I had to say, “Yeah, you’re right, I guess we’re just not there yet as a society.” It’s remarkable when people have the insight to do that and to make a statement about it, to be a model for other people. I think that that point of view is so important for us to keep in mind in education, that the folks that we’re preparing see the world very differently in terms of how to engage with the world, what we give, and what we ought to expect back. I think that’s a way that all of us as employers and cultures have to be thinking about that, relating to people who really have this different worldview, that my safety, my wellness is important too, and it also has to be highly valued in whatever organization I’m a part of.

Jay Lemons:

Thank you for sharing all of that. From that immigrant exile perspective, I think I know about some of the people and events, but move your life forward, how did you end up on the path that led you to becoming a college president? Who were the people and the events that might have of help discern that path for you?

Beatriz González:

I’m going to say that that started with a neighbor across the street, because she worked for a cruise line, and so she was a supervisor at a cruise line, and one day she was missing staff. She came across the street and knocked on the door early in the morning on a Saturday to see if my older sister wanted to fill in, and my sister didn’t want to go. I was standing right behind her like, “What’s happening? What’s happening?” and when my sister said, “No, I don’t want to go,” I said, “Oh, I’ll go.” I didn’t really think she’d take me, I was 14 or something like that at the time, but she did. I think she must have been really desperate for somebody to do some typing that day, so I went along with her, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

I worked at that job at this major cruise line since I was 14, all the way through my Ph.D., because it was a great job to have as a student. I worked first weekends preparing the ratings, you know how you fill out those comment cards when you go places? I can’t speak for every business, but at least that cruise line read every single one, because I was part of a team that produced the ratings for every cruise, read all the comments, collated and sent them back to the ship before sailing. Some of the great things about that job, number one, it involved technology, and I wasn’t going through school with technology. I’m that old, and it wasn’t part of my classroom instruction.

What I learned, because later they made me a computer operator at night, what they used to call a California shift, now everything is 24 hours, but back then 6:00 was the end of the day, but we had a California shift that worked later, ’til 11:00 PM to handle those west coast calls, and so they taught me what to do with this gigantic computer at the end of the day, and run all that end of day stuff, but what I learned is, it’s really hard to break it. You have to be doing a lot to break a computer, so it took away that fear, that anxiety that I might have had, had I not had that opportunity. It also taught me a ton about efficiency, communication, delivering, delivering on time, how business does things.

Eventually, as the cruise line expanded, I was sent to New York to set up the same operation we were doing in Miami with the comment cards in New York city. Because I had started there at 14, here I was, 19, being flown to New York, meeting with the captain of the ship, “This is what we’re doing, we’re setting it up.” It taught me about grace under pressure, coping with responsibility, so that was a terrific, terrific job that really set me up well, I think, as a professional. Then after that, I finished my English degree and I became a high school English teacher, and I taught ESOL. That was really great because I worked at a place called Hialeah High School, that has a very, very, very large population of recent immigrants.

It really reconnected me to my purpose, to my own background, and so it was, again, a reminder of that “lift as we climb”. I was there with my people, people who had gone through very similar things as my family, and probably with less resources, so that was a great job for that, rooting me well in my own history. Then I got a master’s in counseling, I became a counselor there. One of my professors was a member of the county school system, and he told me about an internal leadership development program I had never heard of, and he suggested I go through it. I’m sure he helped get me into it behind the scenes, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have done it if he had not told me about it, encouraged me, helped me get through it.

That was probably my first formal lean into some sort of professional leadership. Then I liked school, liked studying, and I started my Ph.D. with the thought that, “You know what? I love teaching so much, I’m going to teach the rest of my life, and that’s how I’m going to fulfill my purpose, contributing that way.” I was hired at St. Thomas University here in Miami as a professor of counseling, and I get enthusiastic things, Jay, so I just started participating in different projects. Then what happened, and I had only been there maybe two years, I was engaged in an interdisciplinary project.

This included two feuding departments, imagine that in academia, feuding departments, so I ended up in the role of me, maybe because I was from the counseling department and part of this project, mediating a conversation amongst those departments regarding a reorganization. I think they must have thought that I was expendable, I was a junior faculty, I wasn’t tenured, so they’re like, “Eh, if it blows up in her face, whatever, she’ll be gone,” but I had no idea of those things at the time, so I’m just marching along, “Sure, I’ll help.” The upshot was that I wrote a report with recommendations about what to do, and I remember I had just learned it in my doctoral program, so I based the analysis on Lewin’s force field analysis model for change.

I’m like, “Oh, this is great. See, going to school pays off, and you learn things you can apply,” and that report of course went to the provost and eventually the president. It was right about the time that we had to start our self-study for the reaffirmation of accreditation, the decennial self-study, and so off of that report, they asked me to be the self-study director. That was a great, great experience, nothing like it, in terms of that was like going to school. It taught me everything, really, about running an institution. That was back when SACS, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, had the 500 must statements, like many of the accrediting body, very prescriptive.

500 statements, imagine going through it, I don’t know finances the way of the CFO, but I then understood that, “This is what it should look like, it needs to have this, this ought to be going on.” That was a great, great experience, and then that led me to become a reviewer for SACS for the next 10 years, and a great experience. I’d recommend that to anybody, to speak with your provost, president, to see if you can get on a review team. You learn so much, you learn, of course, from the institution you’re studying, but you’re part of a team, so you’re also hearing what all the other team members have to say about, “Oh, at my place, we do it like this, we do it like that.”

You’re just gleaning all this wealth of information about how things could be run, are run, so that was super helpful. Then what we realized while we were doing the self-study is that we didn’t have a planning function, and we really didn’t have a planning office, so I became the planning director. Think back, this is a while back, where a lot of institutions really didn’t have that as a formal function, so we started our planning and assessment office. Again, that led to a lot of learning for me about that area, good assessment, consistent improvement, all of that.

Then I was asked to be the undergraduate dean, and that put me in daily contact with other departments that I had learned about more theoretically as self-study director, but now hashing out things with the registrar and department chairs, and so the very practical application of what I had just spent three years studying. When all that was through, the self-study and I had started as this undergraduate dean, the president, Monsignor Casale, of St. Thomas University at the time, asked me what I wanted to do next. I was just helping out, in my mind, “Oh, there’s a project? I’ll help out, okay,” I really wasn’t seeing it as a stepping stone to something else.

When he said, “What do you want to do next?” I was thinking very practically with the files, and I started, “Well, I’m going to send them to archives …” He was like, “No, no, no, no, no, what do you want to do with your work life? What are you doing with your career?” Before, really, I could answer, he said, “Not many people thinking about being a president ahead of time. Well, I don’t know, maybe Bill Clinton did, and so a lot of people don’t, but I think you could be a really good college president,” which that kind of blew me away. That thought had never occurred to me, I never thought of that, that that was my plan. I really thought I was doing this faculty life, “Okay, now some administration,” but that was never part of a plan.

He said that, and he said, “I would like to recommend to you, I think you should apply for the ACE Fellows program,” something else I had never heard of before. Remember, my parents are not from this country, they didn’t go to school here, my mom didn’t go to college, so I didn’t know people who knew these things. He talked about that, and I’m so grateful to him, because it’s a Catholic school, but it’s not Notre Dame, they don’t have a lot of money, and for him to pay what he paid for me to go to the program, and then to pay my salary for a year when I wasn’t there to do the work, that was very, very generous, and I’m very grateful to him for that.

It was such a tremendous learning experience, again, learning from my fellow fellows, all the schools we went to, great learning experience. My placement was at the University of Miami with Dr. Donna Shalala, who was super, she’s tough, she’s deliberate, she’s that way, and yet there’s such kindness in her. I’ll tell you a little story about that. I did my fellowship there, I think it was ’04-’05, and then it wasn’t until 2013 that I was heading to California for another position, and I went to see her. I went to say goodbye before I left, and told her I was going to California, “Oh, good for you. You know, a lot of people who live in Miami don’t leave Miami, it’s lovely, what is there to leave? But it’s good to go other places,” and all of that, and she was very happy for me.

I must have done that a couple of months before I left, but I told her the date I would start my new job. When I arrived at my new office in California, there was this amazingly beautiful orchid arrangement there. What was cool about it, it was so remarkable that she had made a note to remember when I was starting and all of that, and the kindness of these flowers for me, yes, but she wrote a note that said, “With great respect and admiration, Donna Shalala.” I knew that, yes, she had done it for me, but she did it for me to have my back, so that the other people who saw that note, “Donna Shalala admires and respects her?”

You know what I mean? She did that for me, and to have the thought of like, “We’re going to send this note, we’re going to send these flowers,” I thought was so thoughtful. She’s been a wonderful mentor ever since that fellows experience. The other thing that was great about ACE is that it connected me to the office of women, I know they’re structured a little differently now and it’s not exactly like that, but there was this office of women. I finished my fellowship year, and I’m like, “Oh, office of women, I don’t think they have one in Florida,” and they didn’t, it had sort of fallen, it had gotten dark there. I resuscitated the Florida network, and so the following year, I go to the ACE meeting a couple days earlier to go to the office with women meetings, because I wanted to work on this Florida network.

I’m checking in at the desk, and a woman named Josie Baltodano, who is now at UC-Berkeley, and she had been a university president, she was part of the office of women, she was on the board, and she just was very friendly, “Oh, what are you doing here? I haven’t met you before.” I explained, “Oh, I’m here for the office of women meeting, and I’m hoping to work with the Florida network.” “You’re going to the women’s dinner tonight, aren’t you?” and I said, “No, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She took out her checkbook, this is back in the time of checkbooks, and right there as I was registering, she wrote a check for the dinner for me that night.

I say that because it’s these little things, and it was a big thing, that’s her money and I’m a stranger, and she did it, but the flowers with the note for others to see, and paying for the dinner that night for me to gather me into that group, and before I had to go to meetings the next day, these people seeing you and offering you these kindnesses that just make such a difference. When I came back from the ACE fellowship, I became chief of staff, that’s what the president asked me to do. Marketing was under me, so now I’m learning marketing, something I didn’t know before. Then eventually what happened was, things weren’t going well in student affairs and just really losing a lot of money in housing, they were having some problems, that person went away.

Then he asked me if I would become the person over student affairs, which also included athletics, enrollments, that whole bag, and then I kept also my planning responsibility. Eventually I was the vice president for planning and enrollment there at that university, just learned so many things, but then I started feeling stagnant, that, “Okay, maybe you’re not learning as much anymore,” and kind of itchy to do something different. My son was just about college age, and he was thinking of going to the West Coast, and he said, “Mom, why don’t you apply for schools on the West Coast?” I thought, “Yeah, okay, Why not? Let’s apply to schools on the west coast.” Again, you know the value of networking, I was at an ACE meeting, an office of women thing, and there was a woman who was president of a University of California, who was looking for a vice-provost.

One thing led to another, I applied for the job, and it just happened super-fast, I think I applied in March, I was interviewing in May, and I started that job in July or something like that. It just speaks to the importance of being with people, being part of a network, communicating about what you’re interested in, because things just kind of presented themselves. Then I was out in California, I was a vice-provost, supporting all the things that have to do with teaching and learning, so sponsored research, IRB, advising, career services, community engagement, all of that kind of thing. Then the CDO, the chief diversity officer, left abruptly, and they asked me if I would be willing to take that on, because I’ve always been engaged in equity and justice work, it’s important to me personally.

I said okay, so I became the vice-provost and chief diversity officer, and I think all those things happened really just by being engaged and enthusiastic about what I was doing. That brought opportunities, which brought more learning, which brought more capacity, that brought more opportunities. That’s it, it’s a story of…

Jay Lemons:

Really, really extraordinary, and yes, I really appreciate your starting at age 14, and being curious and being willing. By the way, it sounds like your work, in so many ways, it strikes me as you became a social science researcher in that moment, reading these comment cards, how closely that is tied to the work that we try and do, and understanding the experiences of people in so many settings and how that fed upon itself, and the value and the importance of having champions, people to affirm. I know that that’s a consistent story for all who’ve been blessed to be leaders, so thank you. I want to flip to, I like to ask people, “What makes a good leader?” By good, I always say, “I don’t mean grade B, but I mean someone who is virtuous, effective, successful in both leading and bringing change and progress to their organization.”

Beatriz González:

Gosh, Jay, the list is endless almost, right? There’s so many important qualities to good leadership. I think a very important quality is, you have to be brave, because I think you have to push the envelope sometimes, push the envelope for quality, push the envelope for justice. That takes courage to be able to do that, and I think being brave and having courage enables other virtues like honesty and integrity. You have to have a measure of courage to be honest, to be a person with integrity, so I think you have to be willing to face challenge, face pain, and tolerate it, so that’s part of it.

Maybe it’s sides of the same coin, I don’t know, but I think it’s super important to be humble. A humble person listens, a humble person accepts responsibility, upholds other people, is open to being challenged, is not trying to prove themselves on the back of someone else. Someone told me recently, because I was apologizing for interrupting them and then responded with a very kind thing, and they said, “There was another leader here who said to me one day, and they were serious, ‘What have you done to advance my legacy today?'” I thought, “Wow, that’s really something, that some folks view leadership that way, that it’s about others doing something for them that makes them important.”

I think when we’re humble we do our best work. I think compassion, compassion to want to relieve the suffering of others, because first, you have to see the suffering, you have to have that empathy to say, “You’re going through something, you’re having a problem,” and then you need to do something about it. I think the very best leaders, what they’re really doing is clearing the path for other people. They’re seeing that obstacle, they see that this person is confronting something that’s a challenge, that it’s hard, and as their leader, part of what you do is get that stuff out of the way so that these superstars can do this great work. I think compassion too is important.

Jay Lemons:

I love it, so compassion, empathy, bravery, courage, being humble, wonderful. Maybe this speaks to my own limitations, but wow, I look back, and people will say leadership is lonely, and I have to say that I never felt lonely, and I think it was because I was surrounded by people and a team. I want to hear what your thoughts are about what you look for in the members of your team.

Beatriz González:

To be honest, the very first thing is confidence. That can be hard, because perhaps you have someone doing a job and they’re doing okay, or maybe someone’s in an intern position and they’re doing okay, but they’re not ready for that job, and even though you have great regard for them and you want to encourage them and find a path for them, they may not be ready for that job. I think you owe it to the rest of the team, to everyone that you’re leading, to make sure that you have a confident leadership team. It can’t be necessarily your sorority sister’s cousin or someone who you know, because you owe those people a competent team, so the first thing is confidence.

Next, you said it, I’m curious, I want to be with curious people who are interested in solving problems, flexing problems, and that curiosity leads them to think of new things. They’re not the same old thing, or maybe the same old thing but revised, so a curious mind is important, and I do look for folks who there’s evidence of empathy. How would they talk about empathy? How have they displayed that before? I look for people builders, so people who want to coach, who want to promote others. Again, when I interview, I always try to take a very behaviorally based approach, “Tell me a time when you … Talk about how you …” to really give concrete examples of what’s been done, as opposed to just theoretical ideas.

I also like people with a sense of humor. Sometimes I say different ways of like, “No one’s on the operating table right now. We have that luxury, thank goodness, we’re in a job where right now, there’s nobody on the operating table,” and I say that for a few things. Number one, you always have time to talk to someone. You’re trying to make a decision, you’re trying to move something, but sometimes we go ahead and do it without talking to all the people we ought to talk to, because we anticipate a conflict and we don’t want to do that, so we just move forward. But no one’s on the operating table, you have time to go talk to the people you need to talk to, that’s part of your job. Also because if something goes wrong, thank goodness we’re not in a life or death situation.

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, we’re going to move forward, we’re going to learn from what just happened, and then we’re going to move forward. People who don’t take it all too seriously, that we are super fortunate, blessed to be doing work that is a privilege, to help build other people, but you know what? In the end, we have to keep a sense of humor about it, we have to keep joy in it, or else we’re not going to do a good job for other people. I think that’s important, those are some of the things I look for.

Jay Lemons:

Awesome. I always have in my mind our participants in a AALI’s leadership development programs, and frankly, those in other leadership development programs, and I always want to create the space for our guests to offer a word of advice to new leaders, those who are thinking about or aspiring to lead.

Beatriz González:

I’m sure they’ve heard so much already, so hopefully I won’t be trite or anything like that, but I think the first thing is to be authentic. I really believe that your true self is your best self, and that doesn’t mean that we all don’t have things to work on. I do, but I think who you really are is who people want to see show up, and if you are that person day after day, good times, bad times, people will trust you then, and when things aren’t so good, they’ll get behind you, they’ll get behind the issue. I think being authentic, really being you, I think that’s really important.

Secondly, don’t get full of yourself. Everybody falls, and if you’ve propped yourself up real high, it’s going to be a very hard landing. I was at an event recently, like we have in academia, where we were wearing regalia, and I saw this one person had an office assistant, so a person whose job is to do office things, not to be a personal dresser or a lady in waiting or something, hold the regalia while this other person ate a bag of potato chips. The woman just sat there holding the regalia by the shoulders until this other person was ready to put it on, and I was like, “Whoa, what did that woman go home and say to her family, to her fellow workmates about? ‘I had to stand there holding this robe until those bag of chips were done.'”

Don’t get too full of yourself, we’re just people, and put on your own clothes. Next, I would say be open to opportunity, and then be prepared to work, to deliver. Opportunities will come to you, and you don’t have to take them all, in fact, be judicious. Don’t over extend, but the ones that you take, be prepared to work and deliver, that’s going to say who you are. I’d say, find a group, a network that really resonates with you, because not every group will. I think you have to find, if it’s a woman’s group or in your discipline or the black leaders, whatever it might be, but some sort of network that can be a team for you and a space for you where you feel comfortable, and people you can get ideas from and can support you.

I also think sometimes you have to go sideways to go forward, maybe you do a lateral move, maybe you need to get out of the situation you’re in right now, maybe you need to shine in front of other people. Every context is different, so you’re still going to learn, even if it’s the same job. Some people don’t want to go sideways, “Oh, it always has to be forward, forward, forward,” but I think sometimes a lot is gained by going sideways. I mentioned a little bit before, fail fast. You know we’re all going to fail, but make it quick, learn from it, get up and move forward.

Lastly, view the success of your people, the people who are on your team, as your success. Anything they do that’s great is great for you, it’s great for your institution, don’t be jealous of your own people. The best thing you can ever do is surround yourself with superstars, because they’re going to make it all work, and it’s going to make work so much better, and you’re going to get to your goals.

Jay Lemons:

Awesome, thank you. I want to move into a lightning round where you can make the answers as long as you want, but a quick question: who most influenced you?

Beatriz González:

I’d have to say my mom, just a beautifully kind person, not that she didn’t get mad sometimes and we didn’t get in trouble, but always a person with joy and interest and curiosity about other people. That kind of showing up happy, it was beautiful, and I was very fortunate that she was my mother, so I’m going to say my mom.

Jay Lemons:

Can’t go wrong with that. What book has most influenced you?

Beatriz González:

It’s almost unfair to ask that of an English major. If I could cheat a little bit, I’m going to say that I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the writing itself, because I really like that magical realism. I like a good mystery and thriller too, but magical realism, really I like it when I’m reading just for fun. He has so many books, they’re beautiful books, 100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, and what’s amazing about those two books, how he approached life and living and being human in two totally different ways.

In 100 Years of Solitude, it’s like a big tree with branches and branches that keep going off and off and off with a million leaves. In Love in the Time of Cholera, it’s the opposite, it’s like one trunk that he goes deeper, deeper, deeper, deeper down to the roots, and it’s just about two people. I just thought it was amazing how he could look at life in these two totally different ways, so I just think it’s cool. I think a book that professionally and also in my life helped a lot is a book called A Guide to Possibility Land: 51 Methods for Doing Brief Respectful Therapy, by Bill O’Hanlon and a woman named Sandy Beadle.

It’s a tiny little book, and I first read it years and years ago in my counseling program, when I was getting my master’s in counseling. What was great about it is that it showed you how to work with a client with great respect, and really engage in the experience and their feelings they’re having at the moment, not minimize it at all, be true to that, but at the same time reassure them of the possibilities. He will do things like, you know how somebody says, “Oh, you’re depressed”? He would never say that, “Oh, you’re depressing right now, like you’re in a state of being depressed, you are not depressed,” so always that there is this potential for being something different, you don’t have to be stuck in what you are right now.

Besides how helpful it is in a very action oriented counseling point of view, just personally to keep that in mind, and sometimes when I might be down on myself, “Oh Beatriz, you blah blah blah …” No, that just happened right now, but that’s not who you are or what you have to be in the future, so I think that’s a great little book.

Jay Lemons:

Awesome, wonderful suggestion, thank you. Favorite memory of your undergraduate experience?

Beatriz González:

It wasn’t like a club or something fun like that, it was a class called reading in the content area. I majored in English and I minored in secondary school education, and this class was about how reading is acquired, how it’s assessed, how as a content area teacher do you also teach reading or incorporate reading, and help the understand what they’re reading? That professor was a perfect model of all good things about teaching, she just taught so, so well and brought people out who weren’t participating. It was just so well done, the lesson and assessments, and because of the content of the course and how well she explored it, it made me such a better mother, because I remembered all these things then when I had a child, and how you build a good reader, and I did all those things. I think, besides how it helped me be a good English teacher, it just helped me be a really good mom by observing her behavior both as a teacher, but also about the process of becoming a reader.

Jay Lemons:

Love it. Favorite campus tradition, someplace that you’ve worked or attended?

Beatriz González:

I think that that would be midnight breakfast during exam week, and I think plenty of schools have that tradition, where you offer students, residential students breakfast at about 1:00 AM, something like that during finals week, and we serve, all the people who work there serve. It was great to see them, and they come in their pajamas and they’re so tired, poor things. What was super beautiful about it is watching my colleagues who had other positions, so the dean of students or director of athletics, and to view their relationships with the students that were so warm and so supportive. I was just so proud of my colleagues, it’s so beautiful to see that, that they were in love with their purpose and in love with the students that they were serving.

Jay Lemons:

You’re so right, those are precious experiences, they’re reminders of why we are there to serve and who we serve. I do think they are real human relationships that are at the heart of student success in a fundamental way. If you hadn’t worked in higher ed, do you have other paths unexplored that beg at you ever?

Beatriz González:

If I hadn’t, and it’s hard to think of something else, and maybe I would’ve done more with counseling, but if I were to go totally different than counseling education, I think it might have been something like interior design. I like things to be beautiful, but I also like them to work, so something that includes that. In fact, recently I was noodling around because I’m interested in getting a certificate in UX design, user experience design, I just thought it would be interesting to learn those. It brings together these things, psychology, people’s experience, technology, so I have an interest in doing something like that.

Jay Lemons:

Love it. One of our traditions in this program is to invite our special guests to share, if you will, the organizational DNA of your institution. Tell us, if you would, about the organizational DNA at Miami-Dade College, the Wolfson campus.

Beatriz González:

Well, it’s a very large institution, about 120,000 students, eight campuses. This campus where I am, the Wolfson campus, is downtown Miami, which it’s been bustling for a very long time, but particularly now we have so many people that are moving here from all over the country, particularly California and New York. There’s a great boom here in terms of all kinds of different development, and it’s great to be here in the heart of the city with all the excitement that comes with being in a city. It’s also beautiful because we’re two blocks from the bay, so they very nicely equip the campus with some terraces in the building, so if you just need a little mental health break, you go out on one of those terraces, take a nice deep breath, and see the ocean, and it’s just beautiful.

I think what’s really compelling is that it is an access institution, it’s here to make dreams come true, to provide opportunity to people who may not have it otherwise. Sometimes people might have the idea, “Well, they’re lucky they’re able to get this education, and so we don’t have to worry about giving them the best,” but that’s not the attitude here. You should see the equipment, the classrooms, fantastic, because, yes, everybody deserves the best, to learn the best ways. Here, people can really find the latest tools within any kind of technology and gaming, cybersecurity, we have a cybersecurity center, we’re about to open an artificial intelligence center, so it’s really the state-of-the-art tools that students would use if they were to go out in the workforce.

I think that’s also some of the really great things about community colleges, very engaged with the workforce, really learning what people, what the workforce, what society needs right away, and jumping on it, acting quickly. I’m proud that we’re able to do those things for our community and for the students. If I could just say one other thing about this maybe to tie it all together, because I want to share this because it’s related to my family history and where I am here, now at the Wolfson campus of Miami-Dade College, the college owns a few historical properties. The most prominent of these properties is something called the Freedom Tower, and it’s a beautiful historic building on Biscayne Boulevard, overlooking Biscayne Bay.

It happens to sit on this campus where I serve, so it’s my responsibility to care for it. It’s known as the Ellis Island for Cubans, because it is where the first waves of Cubans were processed when arriving in the US, where they got their documents, got rations, and it was where I was processed when I came to the United States.

Jay Lemons:


Beatriz González:

I have a picture of myself standing in front of the Freedom Tower at three years old, wearing a dress that is way too short because it’s all I had. That 50 years later I am now its steward is a gift that I cannot quite describe to you, Jay, but it certainly grounds me and it continuously reminds me of my purpose. It’s a very special space.

Jay Lemons:

Wow, that’s awesome. I’m struck by the beautiful way that you have weaved this entire interview together, and it begins with that immigrant story and with the perspective of being in exile, and it returns to a place of being deeply grounded, when you and your family first arrived here. I also want to call out and say that I think you told a story that called upon two of the really distinctive dimensions of American higher education. The role of accreditation, it is a peer-based program in which we assure the public’s trust in a very different way than is done anywhere else in the world, and you’re in the service of the truly distinctive form of higher education born here before anywhere else, in our community colleges. I just want to say, thank you so much for being with us and for so generously sharing your story and your thoughts, your insight, and your wisdom.

Beatriz González:

It’s such a pleasure, a pleasure to talk with you, I really enjoyed it. Thank you for your interest, and it’s been great.

Jay Lemons:

We will see one another again. Listeners, I want you to know we welcome your suggestions and your thoughts for leaders we should feature in upcoming segments, you can send those to leadershippodcast@academicsearch.org. You can find our podcast on the Academic Search website or wherever you find your podcasts. Leaders on Leadership is brought to you by Academic Search and the American Academic Leadership Institute. Together, our mission is to support colleges and universities during times of transition and through leadership development activities that serve current and future generations of leaders in the academy. It has been a really special joy to host Beatriz González on our program today, thank you once again for joining us, Beatriz.

Beatriz González:

Thank you, the pleasure was mine. Thanks so much.

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