Relationships Matter

Anna Gonzalez vice president for student affairs and dean of students

It’s a mellow Friday morning at Harvey Mudd. Students coast on bikes and boards toward early classes, squirrels chase each other around the trunks of oak trees. For Anna Gonzalez, Harvey Mudd College’s vice president for student affairs and dean of students, today is anything but mellow. “The power was out at home,” Gonzalez says, as she arrives on campus. “I had to get ready in the dark!”

When she arrives at the Division of Student Affairs office, there are already a few high-priority phone calls to return. Changes must be made to the day’s tightly packed schedule, so Gonzalez and her unflappable executive assistant Kim Nykanen reshuffle the agenda, which includes meetings, meal dates, phone calls and a ribbon cutting.

8 a.m.

On the way to her first meeting of the day, Gonzalez navigates the short distance between her office in the Platt Campus Center and the dining hall in a hurry, smiling and waving to students as she goes. Though she only arrived to take her position at Harvey Mudd in August, Gonzalez already seems at home, greeting people with hugs, sharing a laugh in passing, even on a hectic morning. “I love it,” she says of the atmosphere on campus. “People work really hard; it’s fast paced. But they really care about each other.”

Anna Gonzalez talking to Stan Skipworth at breakfast table
With Stan Skipworth

Over a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, Gonzalez and Stan Skipworth, assistant vice president for campus safety at The Claremont Colleges Services, discuss security at Harvey Mudd. It’s her first meeting with Skipworth, who agrees with her suggestion that they make it a regular occurrence and says he appre- ciates her initiative. “I’m interested in renewing and building relationships,” Gonzalez says. “I want people to meet the individuals who help keep them safe on our campus. It’s important to have staff, students and officers to build relationships with one another.”

Gonzalez wears her HMC spirit on her sleeve—and on her fingernails, phone case and coffee mug. She also takes it to heart, seeing the value of an HMC community that extends beyond campus. “I want parents and alumni to partner with us; be role models,” she says. “Parents can really help us by reaffirming our good messages to the students, perhaps by saying, ‘Have you looked at career services?’ ‘If you aren’t feeling well, go to student health.’ Just the basic, don’t-walk-by-yourself-at-night kind of thing. If that’s being reaffirmed by people the students trust in their lives, it sometimes has more resonance than when they hear it from me.”

9 a.m.

Back in student affairs, Gonzalez meets with health and wellness deans Michelle Harrison and Rae Chresfield and Gary DeGroot, director of Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services. “I want students to have an under- standing of comprehensive wellness,” Gonzalez says, “not just in emergency treatment or crisis events. Comprehensive, meaning physical, emotional, cultural and mental. If they’re spiritual, that, too. People think of wellness as being one or the other, but it’s really all these things.”

Anna Gonzalez heads table with other staff.
With health and wellness staff

Gonzalez tries to give students many options for engaging in activities that promote wellness, from online avatar-based exercises that promote healthy cognitive behavior to pop-up events to decompression sessions and more. “We are such driven individuals that we tend to not make time for ourselves in that way. But we have to make the time.”

For Gonzalez, making the time for personal wellness includes regular exercise and a healthy diet. It also includes Rafael “Rafa” Nadal, the 9-year-old Japanese Chin spaniel who is her almost constant companion and has become a fixture in the student affairs office. “Having the dog is a wellness thing,” she says. Trained as an emotional support animal, Rafa is available for students who could use some furry friendship as well.

10 a.m.

The College’s Director of Community Engagement Gabriela Gamiz and Gonzalez have regular meetings that include discussion of an overarching goal: “How can every experience at HMC encourage students to think about their impact in the world?” Gonzalez says. “That’s what we’re working on. I believe that our students really care about making changes that make our global society better.”

Anna Gonzalez talking to Gabriela Gamiz
With Gabriela Gamiz


Today’s lunchtime meeting is with North Dorm student leaders, Chris Sundberg (associate dean for campus life) and Leslie Hughes (assistant vice president for student affairs). “I meet with student leaders all the time. At least a few times per week. That’s how I learn how I can support them,” she says. “I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t meet with different students every day.”

Anna Gonzalez talking to Nick Shepherd
With Nick Shepherd ’21

2 p.m.–5 p.m.

After lunch, Gonzalez and Rafa mix some recreation into their schedule, following indoor meetings with staff and students with some time outdoors. When time allows, Gonzalez takes Rafa on “wellness walks” with students. Today’s walk had to be postponed, but they still made it out of the office for a ribbon cutting event, celebrating the opening of the Wellness Greenhouse, a student-led endeavor to provide a place for anyone at HMC to relax and de-stress with some gardening.

Anna walking dog

5:15 p.m.

It’s nearly dinner time, and Gonzalez’s day isn’t over yet. Tonight’s schedule includes an Honor Board hearing (she attends all of them) and dinner with student leadership. “At HMC and specifically at student affairs, we are preparing students to be responsible adults, helping them learn how to live outside of HMC, teaching accountability. And along the way, I hope that we can also role model for them a healthy sense of fun, because it’s all about balance.”