A heart in motion: Rodríguez-Vivaldi retiring but continuing to serve

Ana María Rodríguez-Vivaldi.Driven by her passion to help others succeed, Ana María Rodríguez-Vivaldi is heading into retirement after 30 years at Washington State University still focused on improving lives across the University and beyond.

An inspiring teacher, administrator, and mentor, deeply committed to social equity and cultural diversity, Rodríguez-Vivaldi has served the WSU community in many important roles with vivacity, expertise, and Coug spirit. She stepped down in August from her most recent post as an associate professor and associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) but plans to stay active in initiatives to provide WSU students and employees opportunities to grow and thrive.

“My passion lies in addressing inequities in our community, particularly among the undergraduate students,” she said. “They come to the University with a lot of unevenness from a whole spectrum of backgrounds, and, in a way, the university is where everything becomes even and everybody gets the chance to succeed. Education really is a great equalizer.”

As a past president and active member of the Association for Faculty Women, Rodríguez-Vivaldi will continue promoting equity across the University and advancing policies to address issues of special concern to women. With the WSU Committee for Public Art, she will continue supporting campus art projects of culturally diverse and relevant artists, particularly Native Americans.

And through her membership on the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art Advisory Council, she will continue working with the museum’s leaders to expand its outreach and impact in diverse communities both locally and regionally.

She will also remain involved as a volunteer with the WSU–Hearts in Motion medical mission program, which takes groups of up to 40 students each year into underserved areas of Guatemala to participate in educational and humanitarian projects.

Enabling education and service
The credit-bearing, spring break program gives WSU students the chance in a real-world setting to sharpen their skills in Spanish language and cultural understanding – and to develop additional professional skills – while making a positive impact on the lives of others.

Rodriguez-Vivaldi initiated the study abroad program in partnership with the nonprofit Hearts in Motion (HIM) organization in 2010 and served as its director. Her efforts have allowed hundreds of WSU students to serve as medical translators, general care assistants, and more, working side by side with physicians and dentists to bring healthcare to people in rural and impoverished areas.

A WSU student holds a flashlight over the open mouth of child sitting in a chair while a dentist looks inside.
WSU students make spring break more meaningful by providing translation and other assistance for Hearts in Motion healthcare projects in Guatemala.

Whether holding lights steady for dental procedures, testing children and pregnant women for iron deficiency, or assisting at an orphanage and daycare, the impact of the experience on each student is at least as great as the impact on the lives of the people they touch, Rodríguez-Vivaldi said.

“Ana María is one of the hardest-working professionals I have encountered, and her work is deeply rooted in service to others,” said Kathy Beerman, associate professor of biological sciences and WSU–HIM co-director. “Her generous and consistent guidance helps people move forward, and her work ethic and positive approach to challenges have inspired and made lasting impacts on countless faculty, staff, and students.”

Rodríguez-Vivaldi firmly believes in the power of experiential learning, such as the WSU–HIM program and internships, to help students discover rewarding career paths that match with their individual interests. She built extra-curricular learning opportunities into her Spanish language and film studies courses and developed and led study abroad programs in several countries.

Connecting across cultures
She also believes in the power of language as a bridge to understanding different cultures and ways of perceiving the world, and she worked to prepare students for success as global citizens.

“Particularly in a state like Washington, with an economy that depends on worldwide connections, we are all global citizens, so we cannot avoid really learning and understanding how other cultures and other countries work, and how other people think, in order to do business,” she said.

Exuding both warmth and professionalism, Rodríguez-Vivaldi is widely known for her seemingly unlimited energy and contagious enthusiasm about all things educational.

She made many significant contributions at the department, college and University levels and was recognized for her outstanding efforts on behalf of students and colleagues with a variety of awards, including the Honors College Outstanding Teaching Award (2008); WSU Women’s Leadership Forum Outstanding Mentor Award (2005, 2009); Honors College Outstanding Thesis Advisor Award (2010); WSU Graduate and Professional Students Association Award of Excellence as an Academic Advisor (2016); CAS Outstanding Achievement in International Activities Award (2017); Association for Faculty Women Samuel H. Smith Leadership Award (2018); and Cougs LEAD President’s Award (2018).

“Her students loved her and graduate students wanted her as their advisor – she knows how to bring out the best of each one,” said Vilma Navarro-Daniels, a longtime friend and faculty member in the School of Languages, Cultures, and Race (SLCR). “Ana María is a true role model.”

Beerman and Navarro-Daniels are among numerous WSU faculty who expressed thanks for Rodríguez-Vivaldi’s mentorship in an online guestbook created in lieu of an in-person retirement celebration during social distancing.

“Reflecting on all that Ana María did for the College of Arts and Sciences, I’m incredibly grateful that she was part of the dean’s office team,” said Matthew Jockers, CAS dean. “Even in the unglamorous work of administration, she remained good humored and optimistic because she is values-driven and sees the big picture. She finds incredible joy in all that she does, and her joy is infectious.”

Rodríguez-Vivaldi joined WSU faculty in 1990 after earning her doctoral degree in Spanish at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and teaching at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez, her hometown. When her husband was recruited for a faculty position at WSU, she was hired as an assistant professor of Spanish through the University’s partner accommodation program and family-friendly employment policy.

From assistant to associate professor, she taught five classes per semester and coordinated the large undergraduate and graduate Spanish programs before taking on associate dean responsibilities in 2009 for the then-College of Liberal Arts. She continued to teach and, during her career, developed a total of 34 different courses from 100 to 500 levels, published or presented dozens of scholarly papers and chaired or was a member of more than 50 graduate student committees.

In 30 years of teaching, she missed only one day of class.

“Ana María is what I call a ‘Mission Impossible’ type of person, meaning, you can really trust her to come through: if she says that she will have a report for a certain date and time, she’ll have it; if she says that she can meet with you in order to work on a specific project, she’ll be there. The mission will never fail, even if it is an almost impossible one because she will do her absolute very best to see it through,” Navarro-Daniels said. “And always accompanied with a very unique sense of humor,” she added.

Powering through challenges and changes
As associate dean, Rodríguez-Vivaldi provided leadership for internal and external projects and collaborations in areas ranging from advising and scholarships to international programs and online education. She worked closely with department chairs, undergraduate coordinators, and academic advisors to create a transformative educational experience for students and to help them connect their academic achievements to personal and professional goals.

While serving as CAS associate dean for student affairs and academic programs, she chaired the General Studies degree program for several years and was interim chair for the Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies.

“Her positive energy and tireless problem solving were a power source for the whole team through various challenges and changes,” said Paul Whitney, now vice president of International Programs and a fellow CAS associate dean with her for nine years. “We were fortunate to have a colleague with such good ideas, passion for student success, unflagging energy and spirit of service.”

Rodríguez-Vivaldi said she draws inspiration from within CAS. “People in our college give 110% every single day – I mean, where do you see that? How can you not value that? And how can you be less than that, really?”

She accepted her first associate dean position while still an associate professor, knowing it meant she might never reach full professor status but also knowing it meant she could provide greater support to more people and influence a broader area, she said.

“It was an opportunity to really do something without roadblocks or walls. I was always just dreaming of helping other people move forward – it gave me a chance to see a lot of my ideas through, to bring people together, to facilitate connections and get more projects done.”

One of her fondest memories of working at WSU is the family-like connection she felt when she first came to campus – a connection she still feels today. “The people here promote such a sense of family and community. I value that so much,” she said. “It’s really sweet and sour for me to leave.”

Anna Maria Rodriguez-Vivaldi talks to children and parents at a table filled with medicine bottles and literature.
Rodríguez-Vivaldi explains to Hearts in Motion patients in Guatemala how supplements can be used to combat nutrition deficiencies.

Although the coronavirus upended some of her immediate plans for enjoying retirement, Rodríguez-Vivaldi – a lifelong learner – is brushing up on her Portuguese language skills in hopes of spending a few months in Portugal with her sister. She also plans to reach a longtime goal of learning to play guitar.

A steadfast supporter of the arts and humanities, she has been a strong voice for their prominence within the University and their role in delivering top-quality education. She has generously donated to myriad cultural organizations and projects across the community and looks forward to volunteering at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at WSU.

“I feel such a loyalty to WSU because this University really promotes a sense of loyalty – ‘Cougar Nation’ or whatever you want to call it,” she said.

“And I feel very blessed, very grateful to my unit and the college – the whole University. I have had a lot of opportunities and I hope I have grown and developed, not only as a professional but as an individual. It’s been a fun, fun ride, I have to admit, and I’ve been happy to come to work every day.”

Friends and colleagues are invited to extend their best wishes to Ana María Rodríguez-Vivaldi via her online Retirement Guestbook.

–By J. Adrian Aumen