Interim President Maria Puzziferro
At small universities, students have the opportunity to make connections, and receive the attention they need. Making this happen is very important to SFUAD’s new interim president, Maria Puzziferro, who wants to put her focus on students and their educational experience.
“Unfortunately, especially in some very large institutions,” said Puzziferro, “and I’ve worked in large institutions, you can go through a two-hour meeting and no one ever says the word ‘student,’ so that’s something that’s really important to me is just making sure everyone understands why we’re here.”
Puzziferro’s appointment by the Board of Directors was announced Feb. 3.
Although she initially acquired a bachelor’s degree in political science, Puzziferro was ultimately drawn to education. She was the first person in her family to go to college. Her mother believed that education was a way to do more and continually advance. Because of the importance education played in her life and its connection to her family, Puzziferro eventually went on to receive her Ph.D in higher education administration. Additionally, she has always had an attraction to non-traditional forms of education, due to an internship she pursued during the late 1990s when online education was beginning.
Puzziferro recently worked as president of the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, where she was employed for six years, before she decided she wanted to seek out something a little different. Working at that university allowed her to be exposed to creative individuals, which she enjoyed.
“It was really, really challenging in a good way,” Puzziferro says, “and so that really helped me grow, I think, just as a person, being around that creativity in people.”
When it comes to the differences between standard university students and art students, Puzziferro notices several. She has noted a sense of maturity in art and design students that she feels stems from the nature of their educational choices. She finds their sense of purpose and sense of self to be greater than what one sees in a larger comprehensive university.
After news broke that former SFUAD president Larry Hinz would be leaving SFUAD after four years, discussions were had about bringing in Puzziferro on an interim basis. Though she had not worked on campus as a full-time faculty or staff member, Puzziferro was known for her previous position as executive director of Online Global Strategic Initiatives for Laureate Design Universities. After discussing the prospect with Hinz and other faculty, and after much consideration, she accepted.
Puzziferro says her experience so far has been “wonderful,” and that she is very humbled by the students and faculty and the work that they produce. As far as what she hopes to bring to the job, Puzziferro feels that she is not here to “fix” anything, but that things can always be improved upon. She would like to focus on growing the school by bringing in more students, providing opportunities for student/alumni connection and enhancing student experience.
“A good student experience is a relative thing, it’s a subjective thing,” Puzziferro says. “But when I think about a good student experience, it’s about faculty. It’s about engagement and community and industry, because let’s face it: You’re here to learn the industry. You’re here to learn the craft and get a job when you graduate. So, I think a good student experience has to be about the faculty, how they help bridge what you’re learning into industry and also community and industry relationships are critical. So, that’s something we’ve been talking about is how to build on the great work that’s already been done, but create more community engagement so students have that network when they graduate.”
More than anything, Puzziferro wants students to know that she is approachable, and that her door is always open. She hopes that she can be an active presence on the community, and consistently be involved with the organizations and events that take place on campus.
“Invite me to things,” Puzziferro says. “I love looking at work, I love learning more about what you do, so please invite me and if I can make it, I would love to. Even if it’s just to stop by and say hi.”
There will be a student meet and greet with Puzziferro at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26 in the Greer Garson Theatre, in advance of the Polaroid Stories production. After the meet and greet, the production will be free to all students with an I.D.