A Q & A with newly appointed Dean of the College Carlos Alamo-Pastrana

Last month, President Elizabeth Bradley announced that Carlos Alamo-Pastrana, who was appointed Interim Dean of the College last summer, had been chosen for a five-year appointment to the position of Dean following a nationwide search. In a letter to the Vassar community, Bradley praised Alamo-Pastrana for his “level-headed approach to crises, his creative and holistic problem-solving skills, his follow through and his open and empathic style.”

Alamo-Pastrana was chosen by a nine-member search committee composed of students, faculty, and administrators. As a senior officer of the College, Dean Alamo will oversee seven areas within the division: Dean of Studies, Student Growth and Engagement, Residential Life and Wellness, Safety and Security, Campus Activities, Religious and Spiritual Life and Contemplative Practices, and Professional Development. Following the announcement of his selection, Dean Alamo-Pastrana discussed some of the critical issues he and his staff will address in the coming months.

Dean of the College Carlos Alamo-Pastrana

Q: Now that you’ve been named to this job permanently, what are some of your major priorities?

Alamo-Pastrana: One of my top priorities will be enhancing our mental health support systems on campus. We have to look at this challenge holistically. This includes the creation of an inclusive process that allows us to address short term staffing and programmatic difficulties as well as addressing longer-term structural issues. Beyond that, I would like for us to imagine how to proactively engage the problem at the front end through smart and thoughtful programming in other areas of the division such as Religious and Spiritual Life and Contemplative Practices, Residential Life, and Student Growth and Engagement. Using this approach can help us remove some of the increasing pressure and demand from the Counseling Service, which has experienced substantial increases in student visits over the last several years.

Q: What other issues will you be working on?

Alamo-Pastrana: I am also working closely with the Committee on College Life to address and enhance the experience of our students in the Residential Houses. The goal is to create a deeply connected and more intimate residential house system with stronger house identities. The Committee on College Life is composed of House Fellows (faculty), students, and administrators. It’s a strong team, and I anticipate we will have some concrete recommendations by the end of the Spring Semester.

Q: You’ve already laid some plans for refining Orientation as part of a broader First Year Experience. Can you elaborate?

Alamo-Pastrana: I have a team that includes Associate Dean of Residential Life and Wellness, Luis Inoa; Associate Dean of Student Growth and Engagement, Wendy Maragh Taylor; and Dean of First Year students, Denise Walen assessing our orientation program. Currently, Orientation is too long and has many large group meetings that can feel overwhelming for students. This can also make it extremely difficult to retain all the information presented. Instead of this, we’re thinking of shortening orientation and using smaller group-based activities during Orientation and having other parts of information presented more robustly in programs and events that are a part of the larger First Year Experience.

Q: In addition to being a college administrator you also teach Sociology. Tell us about that part of your job.

Alamo-Pastrana: I love the classroom experience, and I plan to teach at least one course every year. There’s no substitute for that kind of engagement with students. I plan on teaching one of my favorite seminars, Race and Popular Culture (Sociology 382) during Fall 2019.

Q: What’s the best thing about being Dean of the College?

Alamo-Pastrana: It’s the collaboration that I get to do with so many others on the campus, and I’d like to see even more interaction between our division and the academic affairs side of the college. It's is an exciting time for the College as we rebalance the curriculum and as we add “intensives” to the teaching and learning experience. But honestly, nothing warms my heart more than having a big group of students and student-facing administrators in my office engaging each other on a difficult topic that we all care about and learning from one another.

Q: Finally, what do you like to do when you’re not working as Dean of the College?

Alamo-Pastrana: I enjoy spending time with my family, which includes my amazing wife, Tanya, and our beautiful eight-year-old son, Felix. They are the two kindest and funniest people I know. Of course, I’m also trying to stay up on my academic research and projects. In the end, I’m excited to be stepping into this role for the next five years and building upon the great relationships that I’ve made with students, administrators, and faculty over the last 12 years to create the kind of community I have always known is possible here.