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Introducing Dr. Victoria Mora
Posted 08/01/2016 08:51AM

Sharing a passion for UWC-USA's transformational education

For Dr. Victoria Mora, UWC-USA's fifth president, a UWC education is personal. A first-generation college graduate from a large, traditional New Mexico family, Victoria saw up close the power of the UWC model when her daughter attended school in Montezuma, graduating in 2013. "I saw Marisol immersed in a place that values academic excellence, something deeply important to me given my experience as a first-generation college student. But I saw her character being educated, as well, including a deeper understanding of herself and a growing sense of the importance of her actions and interactions." This understanding of self as it relates to community is an important motif in Victoria's life and education and drives her quest to create transformational educational experiences for students.

With a family on both sides that traces its history in New Mexico back several generations, Victoria sees the importance of a group of people who provide support and love—and occasional correction and guidance. With her husband, Tomás Fernández, she helped raise his three children and their two children, Marisol '13 and Alejandro. Marisol is a senior at Smith College, and Alejandro attends an International Baccalaureate school in Santa Fe. With dozens of cousins, aunts and uncles ranging from Albuquerque to the East Mountains, the family community that supports Victoria is enormous. When adding her husband's extended family throughout northern New Mexico, the network increases dramatically with weekends and holidays providing a wide array of gatherings and festivities.

Growing up in a lower middle-class family in the West Mesa neighborhood of Albuquerque with five siblings, she credits the support of her family as she pursued her educational goals at the University of New Mexico and later Yale University. Victoria graduated (magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa) with a degree in English and philosophy from UNM in 1985 and completed her Ph.D. with distinction in philosophy from Yale in 1992. Returning to New Mexico, she worked as a tutor (faculty member) at St. John's College in Santa Fe from 1992 until she became the dean of the college in 2006. As chief academic officer, she was responsible for the academic program of the college, coordinated accreditation efforts, launched the St. John's Summer Academy for high-school students, and increased student domestic diversity and international diversity dramatically. In 2011, Victoria assumed the role of vice president for advancement and ultimately senior vice president for development and alumni relations across both campuses of St. John's. Under her leadership of the advancement and development efforts, St. John's College saw a 15 percent increase in alumni participation, met and exceeded annual fund projections, and helped develop a stronger ethos of giving among alumni and donors. Susan Kaplan, associate vice president for advancement at St. John's College, sees Victoria's success as a matter of relationships. "Victoria's real strength as a fundraiser rests in her innate ability to build robust and respectful relationships with people," Kaplan says. "She is not a fundraiser by training; most of her career has been in the classroom and then as dean before moving to development. It is her interpersonal skills that have made her so successful in the classroom, with donors, with board members, and with her colleagues. She also has a remarkable capacity to build and energize teams of people to get the job done. Victoria conceived, managed, and implemented the campaign in support of the 50th anniversary of the St John's College Santa Fe campus. The goal was $20 million; the total funds raised were over $32 million."

For Victoria, an openness to learning means being open to the transformations that accompany a powerful educational experience, as a parent, teacher, student, or colleague. According to Victoria, our work as educators is not fundamentally about training, and our learning goes beyond our time in the classroom. "A transformational education prepares us for life and its personal and professional eventualities," she explains. "I think the primary feature of a transformational education is that it speaks to us at multiple levels of our being: intellect, imagination, heart, will. Maybe what transformational education does best is integrate us—bring our intellect, imagination, heart, and will together in the lives we lead."

Over the course of conversation and correspondence for this profile, it became very clear that Victoria understands the power of words. Her answers to questions are thoughtful, deliberate, and insightful. Another former student, Shawn Watts, who now teaches at Columbia Law School, sees her relationship with words as an extension of her relationship with people. "Even though I was a rather immature 19-year-old, Victoria treated me in conversation as another adult with ideas and perspectives worthy of respect and discussion," Watts says. "She is always clear about what she thinks—and you are also very clear about what she thinks—but the way she engages others engenders respect and loyalty." Victoria allows that she "is blessed with a great feeling of liberty in expressing my mind and my heart" but that she encourages "the kind of honest dialogue that clarifies meaning and intention," however challenging that dialogue may be. "Peace is a beautiful thing—at home and in the concentric circles that make up our social and political life. But peace at the price of dishonesty, or silence motivated by fear, is no better than the loud polarity that seems to be so prevalent today."

Victoria sees herself as the product of her family, her education, and the diverse cultures that make up New Mexico. As the first UWC-USA president who is also a native of New Mexico, Victoria embraces the challenges of cultural diversity right here at home. "New Mexico celebrates its three primary cultures: Hispanic, Native American, Anglo," she says. "I love the thought that UWC-USA could be a greater catalyst for increasing dialogue and understanding, especially given its commitment to learning through cultural exchange." Mukul Kumar '89, her predecessor, prioritized partnerships with Luna Community College, New Mexico Highlands University, and other educational organizations in the area, and Victoria sees opportunities to build on that good work while exploring how UWC-USA can increase collaboration between disparate cultures right here in northern New Mexico.

Victoria has been very clear that, in order to chart the course forward effectively, she needs to understand the concerns and priorities of the board, alumni, faculty, staff, and students and to listen closely to them. "It has been a long time since I have been a newbie within a school or community," she acknowledges. But she feels energized by the opportunities to grow and lead. Her views on leadership are tied to her views on compassion and community. She cites the quote from Kurt Hahn about the importance of compassion and service in education as a way to understand what she wants to accomplish at UWC-USA. "Enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial—all these are things each of us might pursue individually. But compassion requires an 'other,' with her or his own curiosity, spirit, tenacity, and self. And these things about the other aren't necessarily shared by us, maybe even can't be shared, in some deep sense. So compassion is hugely important if we are to have full access to others and a shared world."

With a firsthand understanding of the impact of a UWC-USA education on her daughter and a profound understanding of the importance of the UWC mission, Victoria wants to strengthen the UWC-USA community while making the school a model for other UWCs. "Modeling compassion and creating conditions within which it can grow is the first principle that makes family life and community possible," Victoria says. "It really isn't all about me or all about you. It's about us—so, too, for intellectual pursuit. Yes, we learn for our own growth and ongoing success. But in becoming more integrated human beings, we stand to contribute more richly and effectively to the communities we inhabit. I'm looking forward to being part of a community that lives that aspiration every day."

Meet Mzwakithi Shongwe, '12, who came to UWC-USA from Swaziland.

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UWC-USA offers the International Baccalaureate diploma program. Students can choose from IB classes in 28 subjects – a remarkable number given the size of the school.

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