Dr. Gabriel Gallardo was appointed as interim vice president and vice provost of the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity (OMA&D) following Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange’s departure to serve as interim president at Seattle Central College this past summer. A strong advocate for student success in higher education, Gallardo has served in administrative roles with OMA&D for nearly two decades. However, his affinity with the university goes back even further. He received his bachelor’s (1989), master’s (1993) and doctorate (2000) degrees in geography from the UW. As an undergraduate, he utilized OMA&D student services and later as a graduate student, benefited from support from the Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program (GO-MAP). Gallardo recently took some time to answer a few questions about what drives his passion for this work and what his priorities are for the coming year.
Q: What was your initial reaction to being asked to serve as interim vice president and vice provost?
A: It’s a validation of the work that I’ve done for many years. I always enjoyed being behind the scenes and supporting Sheila, but it is quite an honor to lead an organization of this size in the context of the UW. I’m honored and humbled, but also very aware of the amount of work ahead of us. It is important work, not only for our organization but for the institution in terms of advancing diversity.
A: As I reflect on my own educational trajectory, there were a number of critical points that helped me to advance. The initial success point was getting admitted to the University of Washington. Then as I began to try to understand what I would accomplish academically, OMA&D was instrumental in helping me think about my career trajectory. I had advising and mentoring from staff. They were supportive and helped me to not feel isolated. Then throughout my undergraduate education the Educational Opportunity Program, the Instructional Center and the Ethnic Cultural Center were the family that supported me and helped me to feel like I was home. That experience drives me to give back to the students who are following me because there was someone to help me – someone who mentored me, who helped give me direction. That is something that many of our students experience. Having that connection, having the resources and having someone who can inspire you, help you to think beyond your immediate surrounding is instrumental in the work that we do to launch the next generation of leaders, researchers, lawyers and doctors. That is what drives me, what motivates me. We have great students who come into our institution. We have the opportunity to help them think strategically about how to make a difference in the world. That is exciting, it’s transformative and it keeps me coming back to work every day.
Q: You were born in Chile and came to the United States with your family at age 11. You were also the first person in your family to graduate from high school in the U.S. and attend college. How has your personal background helped shape your path in higher education?
A: Having this background makes me appreciate the students we work with because we have all had to experience cultural transitions, both into this country and into higher education. Cultural and geographic dislocations are part of the high school to college transition for students from diverse backgrounds. If we are strategic in trying to eliminate those barriers and trying to seamlessly integrate them into the fold, I think we are doing our job. I came from a different country that spoke a different language, had a different educational system – all of those were new things to me. That is very typical of our first-generation immigrant experience. Many of our students are first-generation immigrants or the first in their families to go to college so they experience a lot of cultural shock in integrating into the country and facing the demands of higher education. My background has helped me to be more conversant on the challenges that our students face, but has also given me a unique appreciation of diversity. I came to a city I considered to be very diverse. The neighborhood I grew up in – Beacon Hill – had Asian Americans, African Americans, a small but growing Latino community, a Caucasian community. That was kind of the mix in which I grew up. It was very rich culturally with different languages and different cuisines. It was very lively, dynamic and I really enjoyed that. I think I gained a lot from that experience as well. That has informed my work, professionally and academically, but also in my approach to diversity. I am a person who is very inclusive and I value the perspective that different people bring to the conversation. I embrace different cultural norms and dynamics because it helps me to be a better individual, a better person. All of these things are important to the work that we do in advancing diversity.
Q: What are some of your top priorities for this academic year?
A: Historically, access, success and building the next generation of leaders have been an important part of the mission of OMA&D. I am going to continue emphasizing that. We are going to continue to work on some of the disparities in retention and graduation rates for students of color. We want to emphasize access for the Southeast Asian student population to our institution and improve success rates for them as they navigate our university. I’m committed to making sure we work closely with our American Indian and Alaska Native community to ensure that Native students have access to our institution. wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House is an important element for drawing students to the UW from American Indian and Alaska Native communities. All of these things are important to sustain the work and build on what Dr. Sheila established. In addition, I want to get to a point where we’re talking to donors and supporters who can help us with a new Instructional Center, to work on the second phase of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House and build our scholarship portfolio to support students. We know that affordability is a big issue in higher education, especially in this state. We are all very concerned with rising tuition levels, the cost of books and other educational materials, so we want to make sure education continues to be accessible. I’m also very supportive of the work that Interim President Ana Mari Cauce has undertaken with the Race & Equity Initiative. OMA&D will play an important role in that effort. Obviously, this organization doesn’t exist without community engagement and we want to continue to cultivate those relationships. I am always very aware that I stand on the shoulders of others who have created a strong legacy of work to support diversity on this campus. I am committed to continue this work with all the fervor and dedication of our predecessors in the coming year. That is a lot to get to, but I’m optimistic we will get all of that work done.
Q: When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing with your free time?
A: I enjoy dancing, I enjoy being outdoors. I enjoy traveling and spending time with my spouse Veronica (also a UW alum). I’m very family oriented. I enjoy life and I’ve been very privileged to be given the opportunity to work in higher education and for an organization that has really provided an important foundation for me. Every day I come to work, it’s just a great honor. OMA&D is part of my DNA. It doesn’t escape me that there were a number of people who helped me navigate the undergraduate years and then eventually graduate education. That’s why I’m still here, trying to help give the opportunity to the next generation of students.