By: Isabel Acevedo
University of the Pacific’s President Christopher Callahan interviewed former Pacific President Donald DeRosa on his series “Leading Voices” on February 3rd, 2021. Through a Zoom meeting with an audience of over 200 hundred people, they discussed DeRosa’s time as president of Pacific and the key to continuing its success as a university.
President Callahan began by introducing DeRosa’s achievements. Donald DeRosa was Pacific’s 23rd President from 1995 to 2009. During his time as president, he has several impressive achievements including moving the University of the Pacific into the top 100 hundred universities in America. Undergraduate applications also increased by 400% and there were also two million in new and renovated facilities added to the University.
The first question directed at DeRosa by President Callahan is one that inquires about his well being. DeRosa responds that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease five years ago. This meant he had to unfortunately give up his love for playing golf. He also has to put a greater emphasis on staying healthy, which mostly entails going on walks.
The interview then pivoted to the early years of DeRosa’s presidency. In 1994, he was nominated for the position of president and after giving it some thought and learning more about Pacific, he decided to pursue the position. Soon after, he was a finalist and eventually offered the position, which he accepted with the condition that it would remain a secret for the time being. When Pacific was playing a college basketball game on ESPN, he tuned in and saw that his presidency was announced on a big sign that was held by some audience members.
The current discussion then turns to what DeRosa considers his greatest accomplishments as president of Pacific. The first accomplishment DeRosa talks about was an interesting one. He describes how proud he was of the team that helped contribute to the success of the University under his time as President. He was proud that the faculty “complemented each other and valued student life at Pacific.” While he was president, DeRosa decided that he would set seven goals that the University would strive to meet. One of those goals was to be within the top 100 hundred schools. Due to Pacific’s place in only thirty or so spots away, DeRosa and his faculty implemented small changes in order to raise the school up to its well-deserved placement. They were ranked best value which meant Pacific was both affordable and placed importance on delivering the best education.
DeRosa also shared a few memories of his time at Pacific with President Callahan and the audience. One of these memories was the day of September 11, 2001. After the tragic events that unfolded, DeRosa remembers walking around campus and talking with students. He came across a group of Muslim students who were scared of holding their event that night. DeRosa promised to attend their event. When he spoke at the event, he reassured them that they would be safe at Pacific and protected from discrimination and fear. He then saw other students supporting these students and learned that Pacific’s community was strong and supportive.
Another memory was on April 21st, 2007. It was his and his wife’s 25th anniversary. On this day, DeRosa received a call from Jeannette Powell who told him to go to a meeting with Robert Powell, or Bob, her husband. When he went to the meeting, Bob Powell told him that they were going to give 100 million dollars to the university. This money would later help establish the Powell Scholars Program which provided scholarships and financial support to students.
Callahan and DeRosa also talk about the future of Pacific and the key to continuing its success. DeRosa maintains the fact that empathy is our most powerful tool. He stated, “It would be a better world if people had more empathy and self-awareness of themselves.” DeRosa also says that the best quality of the university is its one-on-one relationship between students and faculty. Although technology can be useful, nothing will replace how valuable that connection is to the university. DeRosa’s leading voice has inspired President Callahan’s own attitude and commitment to Pacific and everyone who hears his passion and love for the university.