Deaf Person of the Month
11th President of Gallaudet University
On October 9, the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees announced that it had selected Roberta “Bobbi” Cordano, J.D., as eleventh president, effective January 1, 2016.
In making the announcement, BOT Chair Heather Harker said, “We are delighted to have selected Ms. Cordano to become the 11th President of Gallaudet. As our students are connecting with our vibrant community, discovering their academic and career aspirations, and influencing conversations and their futures, Ms. Cordano will be the kind of president to lead transformational change at the university. She's the right person at the right time for Gallaudet.”
Cordano, who is Deaf and comes from a strong-Deaf family with Gallaudet connections (her father Waldo was a legendary coach at Wisconsin School for the Deaf), is fluent in American Sign Language and English. She currently serves as the Vice President of Programs for the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation in St. Paul, Minnesota. In this role, she oversees direct community-based programs for nearly 9,500 people in the areas of early childhood, community mental health, family-supportive housing, aging and caregiver services, school reform, and food access. She is widely credited for managing and sustaining programs in a highly volatile revenue environment, providing community leadership, fostering innovation, strengthening and supporting diversity within the workforce, and structuring services for optimal alignment and collaboration.>
Cordano received her Bachelor of Arts from Beloit College in 1986 and her Juris Doctor from University of Wisconsin Law School, Madison, in 1990. She has held several leadership roles in different sectors, including health care, higher education as assistant dean for the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota; and in government as an assistant attorney general for the State of Minnesota. She is a founding member of Metro Deaf School, a bilingual-bicultural charter school for Deaf and hard-of-hearing children in St. Paul, and a founding board member of Minnesota North Star Academy, a Bi-Bi charter high school for Deaf and HoH students.
In 2003, Cordano, along with Walter Mondale and former Minnesota Governor Elmer A. Anderson, received the inaugural Public Leadership Award from UMinn’s Humphrey School. In 2005, she received the Access Award from the Minnesota State Council on Disability.
Gallaudet’s current President, Dr. T. Alan Hurwitz, is retiring at the end of this year. His five-and-a-half year term began in January 2010. Last year, he agreed to a 6-month contract extension to allow enough time for a thorough and comprehensive search process.
That search process took a year, led by a committee representing a cross-section of the campus community, in tandem with Bridge Partners, a consulting firm. The search officially began in August 2014. Eight semi-finalists were chosen, and three finalists—Cordano, Pamela Lloyd-Ogoke, and Annette Reichman—were announced on August 11, 2015. It was an historic first, all three finalists being women.
In September, each finalist visited campus, met with constituent groups, and presented at a campus-wide open forum. The BOT, convening from September 7 to 9, interviewed each finalist and made a final selection.
Said Harker, “The goal for the presidential-selection process was to select someone who would be described as a transformational leader, someone who will work to establish a vision that is shared by the entire campus community and inspire the community toward positive change. Ms. Cordano brings to the position experiences and skills built in both traditional and non-traditional settings—skills that can be applied toward transformational change at Gallaudet so we can continue to successfully serve future generations of deaf, hard of hearing and hearing students."
Cordano was the top choice of Deaf advocates who want Gallaudet to be a Deaf-centric institution, as befits its Bi-Bi mission.
“I want to thank the entire community for making me feel welcome throughout this selection process,” said Cordano. “There is no other place like this in the world and I’m honored to have been chosen to lead and serve this unique, one-of-a-kind university. With Gallaudet’s world-class researchers and faculty, innovative academic programs, a motivated, ambitious student body, and a dedicated staff that serves all institutional needs, there is great promise to develop and graduate future leaders who will make significant contributions to our country and the world. I look forward to working with the entire university on the transition process over the next several months.
Cordano’s parents were both Gallaudet alumni. Three generations of family have attended or are attending Gallaudet—and that’s another presidential first.