Gatepost Interview: President F. Javier Cevallos, Administrator of the Year

(Photo by Melina Bourdeau)

How do you feel about winning the Administrator of the Year Award?

I feel deeply honored by winning the award. And actually, also, slightly embarrassed because I think there are so many people on campus that do so much for our students that deserve to be recognized. They have been here a long time and I’m fairly new. I think they deserve it more than I do. I’m also thankful that students chose me for this award. It’s really nice of the student body – SGA – so I’m very honored by it.

What do you hope FSU students take away from their experiences here?

We want students to get a well-rounded education. Meaning that you will not only learn the skills you need for a specific job for a career path, that also that you will develop the social skills that will help you be successful. The combination of social skills and academic skills and intellectual curiosity is what I hope that the students get from an education at FSU.

What is your favorite aspect of your job at FSU?

I have so many things I can say I enjoy about my job at FSU. First of all is the energy that comes from the student body. I enjoy walking through the McCarthy Center and looking at activities going on and seeing people engaged in different activities. … I have found this to be an extremely friendly campus, and everybody is warm and welcoming. And that makes work quite enjoyable when you come to a place people are smiling and seem to like each other. … It’s a very positive environment. I love the campus itself. I think we have a beautiful campus and being in a setting that is so nice, it helps you feel happy.

What is your resume and educational background?

I did my undergraduate at the University of Puerto Rico. … I studied Spanish-American literature. I did my master’s and Ph.D. at the University of Illinois. … It was in Latin-American literature. My area of work was colonial Latin-American literature. … When I finished my Ph.D., I got a job at the University of Maine in Orono. I was there for three years. … Then I was fortunate to get a position at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. … I was there for eighteen years. I started as a faculty member, and then I slowly got interested in administration and moved through the ranks. I ended up being vice chancellor for student affairs at UMass. In 2002, I was offered the presidency of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, so I was president of Kutztown for twelve years from 2002-2014. … [My wife and I] wanted to come back to Massachusetts, and Framingham actually had an opening, and it was the perfect opportunity. … I was asked by a special consultant who was interested in putting my name in for the job and I said, “Yes! This would be great!” When I got the job, we were very happy. It was a perfect for us. We love it here in every sense. We love the campus, we love the students, we love the faculty, we love the people who work on the campus.

What are some of the things you’ve accomplished in the last year?

It’s hard for me to say I’ve personally accomplished anything. … Everything we do is the work of a team. A big thing we’ve accomplished this year, working with our local delegates, is purchasing the Warren Center. That is Senator Spilka. She has been instrumental in making that happen, but it was a lot of work for a lot of people. For the vice president of administration and finance, the people in facilities, faculty that have been involved in potential ideas for the center. … That has been a big accomplishment. … We are in the process of implementing something called Starfish, which is a retention tool. The best way to describe it is as “the Facebook of Retention,” so we can work with faculty and students to really work on retention. That’s going to be implemented this year and starting in the summer. We also hired a director of marketing. We are the best-kept secret in the area, and we don’t want to be the best-kept secret. We want to be really well known. We need to market ourselves a little more so people know all the things we have here on campus. We have programs of national recognition and distinction – food sciences, nutrition, fashion, retail and merchandising. These are really solid programs. So having all these great programs and not having people knowing about them is not good.

Are there any things you’re planning on implementing at FSU?

Using the Warren Center as a point of departure for programs is the important thing. I am really interested in increasing the graduation and retention rates. We certainly have to understand more of what is happening, but we should be doing better. We’re doing fine, but we can do better. Being better than the national average, in terms of graduation rates, is not enough. We want to be among the best. Pushing ourselves, in terms of quality, to be among the best in everything is very important to me. So we’ll keep pushing the quality agenda and try to increase retention rates and graduation rates. Those are all reflections of the quality of this institution. Our faculty is so committed to our students. I think that it’s just a matter of aligning things together.

What advice would you give FSU students?

The number one advice I can give anyone is to get involved. I think that getting involved in an activity you really care about, like the newspaper, taking photographs, improving your writing skills and participating in social activities are really important things to do. The second piece of advice is never be afraid to ask a question. Always ask whatever you don’t know and don’t be afraid. You have heard this many times – there are no dumb questions. There really are not. What’s a really obvious answer for somebody is totally confusing for somebody else. So don’t be afraid of asking questions. … Those are the two pieces of advice I’d give to students along with work hard and study. It goes without saying – you will not succeed without studying. That’s why you’re here.

To what do you owe your success?

I’ve been very fortunate. Things have really worked for me in a positive way. I’ve had a couple of mentors that have helped me and people that were willing to put their trust in me and push me forward. I also had a couple of people who were sponsors, in a way. You need mentors to help you understand things, and you need people who are willing to sponsor you in the way that they can say, “Hey, you can do that!” So that is an important thing. I am very lucky with my family. My wife is very supportive, and I think that part of success is working hard and doing things that you need to do. I’m always positive and optimistic about things. I always think things are going to work out for the best, and 99 percent of the time, they do.