Leadership

Retiring vice chancellor never tired of Brandman

Maria Cesario

A favorite T-shirt from one of her earliest roles.

 A photo slideshow, a musical tribute, a quilt, a Yoda T-shirt, a heartfelt speech from the chancellor, hugs, tears, laughter. All of those combined to send Maria Cesario into retirement from her role as associate vice chancellor for Academic Administration at Brandman University at the end of May.

As a 40-year employee who saw the transition from Chapman College to Chapman University College to Brandman University with a variety of names for locations in between (Residential Education Centers, Academic Centers, College of Lifelong learning sites, campuses), Cesario built a reputation as a “consensus builder with the patience of Job,” said Brandman University Chancellor Gary Brahm.

Through it all, she “kept the human touch,” sang School of Arts and Sciences Dean Jeremy Korr in his musical tribute to her.

Maria Cesario Academic CentersCesario began her career in higher education as a military spouse/office worker at Naval Station Miramar near San Diego, California. While the job paid less well than the New York State unemployment she was receiving, the lure of tuition help made it more palatable. She went on to earn both a bachelor’s in business and a master’s in human resources from Chapman and a Ph.D. from the University of Denver.

In 1984, she opened the Denver Residence Education Center, one of 59 sites outside the city of Orange campus of Chapman College. 

“It was in Denver that Maria led some of what she considers the most fulfilling work she’s done on our behalf – creating an AA education program in the federal prison in Englewood. She calls it her most rewarding five years,” said Brahm.

John Snodgrass Maria Cesario

Maria Cesario delayed her wedding to John Snodgrass, held in the chapel at Chapman University, to finalize WASC accreditation for Brandman. 

In 1999, she returned to San Diego, first to run the College of Lifelong Learning site and then as associate dean of the college that would morph into Chapman University College in 2002 and Brandman University in 2008-09.

When Brandman became a separately accredited institution, Cesario “temporarily” shared the vice chancellor of academic affairs role with Laurie Dodge at Brahm’s request. 

“Little did I know they’d be doing it for 11 years,” said Brahm. “Back in the day, all of our remote locations operated differently. It was Maria and Laurie who conquered centralizing and standardizing our schedules, our programs, and services at all of our remote locations.”

She is the architect of the standardized policy and compensation policy for the university’s 1,200 adjunct faculty members and led the effort for the blended/hybrid modality.

“We wouldn’t be as innovative or far-reaching as we are without her. We will miss the laugh that you can hear all the way down the hall. We will miss, as she calls it, ‘sassy New Yorker.’ Her infectious positivity. Her loyalty – who gives 10 months’ notice that she’s leaving and works every day up until the last moment to leave the place better than she found it?” said Brahm as his audience made up of faculty and campus directors nodded in agreement.

As her long-time partner in academic affairs, Dodge describes Maria as an easy friend, and forthright. She recalls Maria describing them as, “You’re the steak, and I’m the sizzle.” A comment with a twist because Dodge is a vegetarian.

Maria with Yoda shirtCesario will also be missed for her encyclopedic knowledge about the university and its policies and procedures. Brahm called her “our Yoda” and presented her with a T-shirt featuring the “Star Wars” figure and the words “Onward and Upward” – her favorite saying.

She also got a send-off from the Central Office staff with a quilt that commemorated much of the places and policies on which she worked.

“I’m almost speechless,” she said to the applause, laughter and tears of her colleagues and her husband John Snodgrass, whom she met while serving on a Chapman University College to Brandman transition committee. He retired in April as associate vice chancellor of Student Services at Brandman.

Quilt and Maria

Showing off the quilt.

Korr summed it up in his chorus:

“Bye-bye to Maria, we say
It's hard to believe that you're going away
The years will pass but the memories will stay
As onward and upward we go.”

But like another musical “Maria,” there’s no holding back Cesario. She plans to travel, spend time with family and return to Brandman to teach courses as an adjunct. 

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