Meet Madam President

Olivia Gonzalez '17, USD's President for a Day


Every day is a busy one for Olivia Gonzalez on the University of San Diego campus. A graduating senior Communication Studies major, Gonzalez typically wakes up at 5 a.m. for a track and cross-country run workout and then it’s off to class. She participates in meetings and activities through Associated Students, as president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and research as a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and the Honors Program and more. It’s an exhausting, but rewarding, daily life experience.

But then came Tuesday, May 9, when Gonzalez switched places with another highly visible Torero — USD President James Harris — and became USD’s President for a Day.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Gonzalez said near the end of her day while sitting at her desk in the Hughes Administration Building where the President’s Office resides. “I certainly feel like I’ve gotten a taste of the many different things Dr. Harris does and I don’t know how he does it all.”

But Gonzalez did and did it all exceptionally well.

President Gonzalez Stays Busy

Unlike her usual morning run, Gonzalez’s day began with an 8:30 a.m. meeting with staff and reviewing the day’s schedule. She left campus with Thomas Cleary, USD senior director of community and government relations, to give a presentation to the San Diego City Council. After a tour of City Hall and a photo opportunity with San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and District 6 San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate, Gonzalez returned to campus for back-to-back-to-back meetings with administrators.

Gonzalez received a Campus Master Plan status report from Ky Snyder, vice president of university operations. She met with Terry Kalfayan, vice president of finance and CFO, to learn about USD’s $250 million Renaissance Capital Plan. Gonzalez met with Admissions and Enrollment Director Minh-Ha Hoang to review a student profile currently on the admissions wait list.

Lunch was then served to Gonzalez, 11 USD student leaders and Associate Provost for International Affairs and Economics Professor Dr. Denise Dimon, but it was a business lunch. The meeting was a dialogue tied to questions posed by Gonzalez about food insecurity and hearing about students’ experiences of getting involved on campus and in the community.

“One of the most impactful things today was the student leaders luncheon,” she said. “Getting to hear their takeaways, from their involvement in organizations and ideas how to get students more involved on campus was so inspiring. I know USD has been driving a campaign of “We are Changemakers,” but sitting in that room, I really felt it. These students epitomize all the changemaking occurring at the student level on a daily basis. I know this experience will stick with me for a long time.”

View a photo gallery of the 2017 President for a Day events

Fireside Chat: “Really Special, Really Fun”

Another “beautiful moment,” as she described the entire day, was hosting a Fireside Chat event next to the Torero Store. The Fireside Chat is an open invitation to the campus community to informally chat with the president and administrators while enjoying refreshments. It became a visible showcase of the many spaces Gonzalez is connected to at USD. Several student-athletes and athletics administrators, representatives from AS, McNair Scholars, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Communication Studies faculty, administrators, 2016 President for a Day Will Tate, and Harris all stopped by to say hello.

“The Fireside Chat was the most fun because I had the opportunity to speak with so many members of a wide variety of communities across campus. It was really special and really fun,” she said.

Gonzalez then did an off-campus donor solicitation, accompanied by Vice President of University Relations Tim O’Malley.

Passionate to Stop Food Insecurity

A meeting followed with Assistant Vice President of Student Life Cynthia Avery and Andre Mallie, assistant vice president of auxiliary services, about food insecurity.

Ending food insecurity is a passion for Gonzalez. As President for a Day one perk is that USD donates $1,000 to the student’s charity of choice. Her donation is going to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. The organization fights to end child hunger in the United States, which impacts one in five children nationwide. The campaign works with socioeconomically challenged families to help them access healthy meals at home. Each $20 donation provides 200 meals to children, so the $1,000 donation means the provision of 10,000 meals.

Gonzalez enjoyed meeting administrators throughout the day, engaging and listening on different issues, including student concerns about noise pollution due to current campus construction.

“The biggest thing I gained Is knowledge, just understanding what goes on behind the scenes and what the university is doing that we don’t see on a daily basis to improve the quality of life of students,” she said. “I understand that the university isn’t driving a top-level agenda, but rather a student-based agenda. It’s not that I didn’t already see that by meeting with these administrators, but it made me realize everything they’re doing is for the students, doing it to improve their quality of life, and if that means sometimes students have to hear noise for a while — and I do empathize with that and know it can be frustrating — I do realize that the administrators here really do care, they want to do everything they can for their students.”

The day concluded with Dr. Harris and Gonzalez doing a joint interview with The USD Vista newspaper.

Dr. Harris Reflects, Praises President Gonzalez

Harris’ day started early. He joined the track team’s 6 a.m. off-campus workout and returned to campus by 9 a.m. Gonzalez’s Theology of the Church class didn’t meet, but Harris spent time with the USD Athletics Training Center staff and enjoyed an ice bath. He fulfilled Gonzalez’s SAAC duties, meeting with Athletics Administrator Ron Valenzuela and SAAC student board members. Later, Harris attended Honors Program student presentations. Overall, he enjoyed being in community with fellow Toreros.

But his favorite part, he said, “was watching Olivia shine in her role as president. She was just glowing from the experience. People who met Olivia came away knowing that if she’s an example of a USD student then we’re in a very good position.” — Ryan T. Blystone

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