Five Questions … with Dr. Heather Maldonado

Keuka College’s new Vice President for Student Development discusses her experience, her educational philosophy, and what attracted her to the College.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Dr. Heather Maldonado has joined Keuka College as Vice President for Student Development. The Cabinet-level position is charged with providing the vision, strategy, and leadership required to ensure Keuka College’s students achieve excellent outcomes.

Dr. Maldonado is a veteran educator with more than two decades of administrative experience in higher education, most recently as Associate Provost for Academic Success at Buffalo State College. Her new role, which began on June 1, will see her focus on student engagement and success at Keuka College.

In advance of her arrival, Dr. Maldonado shared her vision for her new role—and the College—during a recent Q&A:

Question: What attracted your interest in Keuka College? 

Answer: The first thing that attracted me to Keuka College was it being a small, residential, liberal arts college located in a beautiful place, given my own transformational undergraduate experience happened in a similar institutional type – but there’s so much more to KC!
As I spent time learning about Keuka College the more attractive the possibility of serving the college as the Vice President of Student Development became: the unique opportunities—such as Field Period® and outdoor experiences—offered at the college, the student-centered focus articulated by President Storey, the highly engaged students I met during my day on campus, the direction the Keuka College is heading as expressed in the revised strategic plan, the passion and collegiality found among staff and faculty, and the alignment of Keuka College’s mission, vision, and values with my own professional beliefs all deepened my interest in Keuka College. 

Question: What is your vision for your position? 

Answer: During my campus presentation, I outlined the following as my vision for the VPSD position: 

  • Leveraging the VPSD’s position in the Executive Cabinet to educate about and advocate for student development needs;
  • Collaborating with Executive Cabinet to integrate out-of-class experiences in support of a transformational, liberal arts-based education;  
  • Engaging students, staff, and faculty in communication, feedback, and decision-making processes;  
  • Creating and supporting inclusive micro- and macro-experiential learning experiences for all students;  
  • Utilizing past, present, and future student development theory to inform practice;
  • Developing, in partnership with campus and community stakeholders, an innovative lifecycle engagement plan—from prospective students through alumni—intended to foster psychosocial, intellectual, and moral growth to assist students in realizing their full potential 
  • After spending time on campus, I know that I will be joining a campus community that is committed to their work and who seek to provide a well-planned and comprehensive student development experience that ensures all students have the support and opportunities they need to persist and thrive at Keuka College.

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to bring my skills and experiences to Keuka College and the VPSD role so I can assist the College by providing the vision, strategy, leadership, advocacy, and assessment needed to help Keuka College adopt an integrated, whole-person approach to student development that spans across the functional areas of the College and the full college career of all Keuka students.  

Question: What do you see as the biggest challenge in your new role? 

Answer: There are two main challenges that I will be tackling as I begin my service to Keuka College as the VPSD: learning All Things Keuka and creating a student development planning and assessment cycle.

As I join the campus community, I will be focused on building relationships with students, faculty and staff, executive leadership, the Board of Trustees, alumni, and the local community. I believe being in a relationship with the members of Keuka College will be essential to truly understanding people's experiences—and this understanding is critical to being the best possible champion for student development needs as the College plans, allocates resources, implements initiatives, and assesses programs.

Further, I will be learning deeply about Keuka College’s history and current practices so I can best understand what came before me to serve as a foundation for the planning, consensus-building, assessment cycle that will be integral to the future student development work of the College. Students—and faculty/staff—do not live their college lives by organizational structure boxes or reporting lines, but rather their lives unfold organically through their experiences. Colleges excel when they strategically align programs and initiatives to meet people where they are and collaboratively and intentionally nurture growth across functional areas of expertise. I look forward to taking on both of these challenges!

Question: What do you see as particular areas of opportunity for the College? 

Answer: I appreciate the strategic way Keuka College’s leadership is advancing the institution and is committed to the intentional development of its students in all aspects of college life. The College is clearly ready to create and implement a comprehensive student development plan. 
The Student Development staff I met with during my campus visit are passionate about their work and deeply committed to fostering an amazing Keuka College student experience—and this shared disposition creates endless opportunities for the College. It appears to be an exhilarating time to be at Keuka College and I look forward to contributing my skills to assist the College in achieving its goals of engagement, innovation, inclusivity, and sustainability.
Although there is much work to be done, it appears to me that the exceptional relationship shared by the Executive Cabinet, the unique opportunities Keuka College offers, and the engaged Student Development staff will blend together to make the work enjoyable and our goals achievable.

Question: What areas of your background/experience will be particularly applicable as you begin your new duties? 

Answer: I began my career in higher education in Student Affairs—with experience as a resident assistant, hall director, area director, and assistant director of residence life—and then transitioned into Academic Affairs—with experience as an assistant to the dean, assistant dean, and assistant provost—and these experiences have allowed me to work with students in both the academic and non-academic parts of their lives.

The academic programs I pursued for my master’s and doctoral degrees, as well as the leadership training I received through the HERS Wellesley Institute, provide me with a strong theoretical foundation to base practice upon. My higher education career’s span across functional areas has allowed me to work in innovative and collaborative ways with my colleagues and celebrates the critical contributions of both in-class and out-of-class experiences that influence students’ development and achievement. I believe these parts of my background—along with my commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion principles and shared governance—will inform my work at Keuka College and help me excel at the responsibilities of the VPSD position.