Dream Weaver

Outgoing SOLES Dean Paula Cordeiro


The hallways of the School of Leadership and Education Sciences will never be quite the same after Paula Cordeiro steps down as dean on June 30, 2015. Her vision has left an indelible mark on the school that’s been her passion for the past 17 years.

Cordeiro’s reach as SOLES dean has been helped by two dramatic developments that both occurred in 2007 — moving into a stunning, new 80,000-square foot building, Mother Rosalie Hill Hall, and incorporating the word “leadership” into the title of what was previously known as the School
of Education.

“This building gives us a sense of place,” she explains. “It tells the community that USD values the work being done in this school.”

During her time at the helm, Cordeiro has helped SOLES to establish its identity, to grow and to become a true Changemaker in the community.

In March, she and her team hosted a Jeffersonian dinner — a time-honored tradition of connecting people and promoting causes through a structured evening of fine dining and topic-specific conversation — for members of the San Diego community.

“People want to have Jeffersonian conversations. Intellectual, polite, but challenging,” Cordeiro says. “One person talking at a time, with others listening. Facilitated conversations around topics that are important to them. SOLES has become a place where those important conversations can take place.”

SOLES’ expansion of programs, cutting-edge research and overall credibility is something to savor. But Cordeiro, who announced her decision to step down as dean last May, is confident about her decision to move on to the next chapter.

On April 1, 2015, it was announced that she will become a Dammeyer Distinguished Professor of Global Leadership and Education. She will be working with the nonprofit organization Edify, whose mission is to improve and to expand sustainable, affordable education in the developing world. Cordeiro and her SOLES faculty and students have been working with Edify on various projects for years.

In this new role, she will continue to work with SOLES students and other USD students and faculty. “SOLES, the School of Peace, the business school and the International Center, among others, are doing great work around the world. My goal is to connect all the dots.”

Cordeiro will also be working to provide microloans to schools, overseeing Edify staff around the globe, and providing training for school leaders.

“I truly believe that education can allow people to achieve their dreams,” she says emphatically.

But Cordeiro hasn’t left the building yet. She’s mentoring staff, hiring faculty, ensuring all SOLES programs are in great shape and working with USD administrators to ensure there are intellectual and fiscal policies that cover the kinds of projects faculty and students are doing in SOLES’ research centers.

She believes that mentoring is important, especially when it comes to helping women advance in the fields of education, leadership and counseling. Although she admits some progress has been made in gender equality, there’s still much work to be done.

“Overall, when I look around the world, I see pockets of light from countries like Rwanda or Sweden or a few other nations where they’ve said that their corporate boards or their parliamentary positions will be held by a certain percentage of females, but they had to legislate it,” Cordeiro explains. “I tell my students, especially the women, to always negotiate. Be assertive. You absolutely have to be persistent.”

As a seasoned professional in the field of education and leadership, advice to graduating students takes on an amplified meaning. In an economic environment where jobs can be tough to find for students in any field, Cordeiro cautions her students to work for organizations that truly value them as individuals.

“Whether it’s a nonprofit our students go into or a job in City Hall, whatever the position is, they really have to ask themselves, ‘Is this a 50-50 relationship? I tell my students to question the world they’re going into.”

Talk of legacy is inevitable when a long-term leader embarks on a new challenge. For Cordeiro, her hope is simple.

“That our school and our programs remain relevant,” Cordeiro says. “A professional school should not exist without being relevant and connected to the community.” — Melissa Olesen