Freshly-selected university leader opens up
April 4, 2019
On March 19, Kevin O’Brien S.J. was announced as Santa Clara’s 29th university president. O’Brien, who has been serving as the dean of the School of Theology for the past three years, will be taking over from Michael Engh S.J. at the conclusion of the academic year.
How do you feel right now?
I feel really excited about starting to work here. A bit overwhelmed too, with all the good wishes and the thoughts and the prayers of people. I’m just filled with gratitude and I really will try every day to be worthy of the trust that Santa is putting me in.
It’’ll be a shift between interacting with students from the School of Theology to undergrads.
On the main campus they’ll be much more contact with the undergrads, which I’m really looking forward to. I spent eight years on the campus of Georgetown working with undergraduates, teaching and then I lived in a residence hall for eight years. The students of Georgetown would say that they saw me everywhere. So I enjoy very much meeting students where they’re at, not having them come to a big office.
Are there any plans for you to start making those connections?
Beginning this week there’ll be a series of opportunities and meetings for me to get acquainted with the campus before I start on on July 1st. I still have a full time job up in Berkeley but I hope to be down here a lot as well. I’d be really open to any ideas about how to how to meet students in different settings.
Is there anything you’re most excited about in learning about this new position?
We have some real challenges and look forward to really diving in deeply with the team that we have here to address them. And for me one of the most important is access and affordability to a Santa Clara education, making sure we are creating opportunities for students who want to come here regardless of their ability to pay at the outset. That to me is the most important issue.
I benefited from a Jesuit education in college and I want to make sure that’s available to as many people as possible.
What motivated you to try for the position?
For me, it’s a great opportunity to to to to serve and give back. I’ve been so grateful for everything I’ve been given in my lifetime and I think serving as president of Santa Clara allows me to get back to another generation. But I also want to get back to the community of which we’re a part of here. Universities should be of service to the places where they serve. And I want to be a part of that service.
We’ll do everything we can to make this Santa Clara accessible and affordable to students who want to come here. We have been committed to that and we will continue to be committed to that. This is really the second really smaller school.
Is there something that you always wanted to do if you got in a position like this to implement a program or your vision?
When I began my leadership here in the summer, for me it’s to try to use my office as president to make this education accessible affordable to as many people as possible. And also to remind the campus as a Jesuit university to remind the campus of our obligation to give back to the community of which we’re a part of, particularly those those people on the margins.
The capital campaign at Santa Clara is one billion dollars and one hundred and eighty million dollars is devoted towards financial so that will make a significant impact on our ability to make this education as affordable and accessible as possible.
But there’ll be much more work to be done. And again it’s not just about simply about financial aid. It’s to make sure that when students get here they can succeed and thrive as an integral part of the community. So we have a lot of work to continue to do but Santa Clara I can assure you will lead on that.
When our seniors walk across that
stage, what does it means for them to have been successful at Santa Clara?
To be successful certainly is to have grown in mind and body and in spirit. As a Jesuit university we want growth in mind, in body, physical integrity and spirit. We can measure scores and we can measure grade point averages—that’s all very important—but equally important is how we measure our lives by the service we do to others.
And so if our students leave here, my hope is that every student walks across the stage will know themselves better and know how they’re called to give back. That to me would be an successful undergraduate career ends at Santa Clara
Contact Perla Luna at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.