Marijo Russell O’Grady hails from Western New York, Chautauqua County. She received her Bachelor of Science (1983) and Master of Science (1985) from Buffalo State College in Art Education with a Concentration in Art Therapy. She worked in residential life during her undergraduate and graduate tenure at Buffalo State College. Marijo worked at North Adams State College, now known as Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, as a Residence Director, then moved to Rivier College in Nashua, N.H.as the Director of Student Activities/Assistant Director of Residents. She moved to NYC in 1989 and began a Ph.D. program in Higher Education Administration at New York University, while working full time in Housing and Residential Life, as the Coordinator of Residential Student Development. Her dissertation was centered around racial identity theory and first year African American students at a predominantly White institutions and completed her doctorate in 1999.
Marijo has served as the Associate Vice President/Dean for Students at the New York City campus of Pace University, in New York City since June 1998. She oversees the areas of Student Development and Campus Activities, Housing and Residential Life, Counseling Services including accessibility and wellness, Multicultural Affairs, LGBTQA & Social Justice, Sexual Assault Education and Prevention, Judicial and Compliance, Summer Conferences, and OASIS, a college support program for students on the autism spectrum. In addition, she serves on their Scientific Review board for external researchers related to health and wellness the World Trade Center Health Registry (WTCHR) for the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She also serves on the NASPA Region II Advisory Board and is the NYC Metropolitan representative and former chair of the Graduate and New Professionals committee and Careers in Student Affairs. She assists with the Downtown Little League’s Challenger team, assisting children with special needs, playing ball. In the past, she served on the Board of Directors and Secretary for the Downtown Little League and had served on the School Leadership Teams for PS 234 and PS 126 in lower Manhattan. Additionally, she is a member of the Liberty Community Gardens. Lastly, she is the principal owner of www.innovativecollegesolutions.com.
In 2012, she was recipient of the “Top 100 Irish Educators” award by the Irish Voice. She was awarded the Jefferson Award for Public Service in 2016 (the Noble prize for community service). She is married to an Art Professor and has a 19 year old son. They reside in lower Manhattan.
Marina Raydun: Having started in 1998, you were already the Associate Vice President and Dean for Students at Pace University (located in downtown Manhattan) during 9/11. It was a terrifying time for everyone. How did that experience move you to co-author Crisis, Compassion, and Resiliency in Student Affairs: Using Triage Practices to Foster Well-Being?
Marijo Russel O’Grady: I began my role in 1998 as the Dean for Students at Pace University’s NYC campus (and later was promoted). 9/11 was a terrifying experience in general, coupling that as a resident of downtown with a 2 year old, and as a leader at the closest university to WTC. This experience has had a long lasting impact on me and my family and my university. The idea for the book was something I had long considered, given, I often felt my life was triage. Katie Treadwell, my co-author was in her doctoral program and asked to interview me about my 9/11 experience. She was writing her dissertation about leaders in higher education and their crisis response and experiences. I told her the first day I met her that we should write this book. It was something we both felt we needed to do and were committed to assisting leaders on this topic.
MR: What did the process of co-writing this book look like? Did you collaborate, read each other’s chapters?
MRO: Katie and I mapped out the chapters and what we thought was the best direction and content for the book. We knew the chapters we each wanted to write and the message we wanted to convey. We then reached out to colleagues in the field to write other chapters. We collaborated on our chapters and edited one another’s writing. We did the same with the other chapters, continuing to edit to the final manuscript. We had originally thought we would look for publishers, and then felt we should first propose the book to our professional organization, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and we were accepted. NASPA staff also did the final editing, collaborating with Kate and I.
MR: How did publishing this book change your writing process?
MRO: In terms of my writing process, I really started with writing from my heart to tell my story and to provide best practices on crisis management (I have handled many crises throughout my career, but 9/11 was the most daunting). I then continued to refine my writing and gained valuable experience in terms of editing other’s work. I am not always the best writer, since I am used to writing memos (LOL), but am very proud of this book.
MR: You work with teenagers and young adults. Do you ever get book recommendations from them? What is your favorite genre to read?
MRO: I love working with young adults and sometimes do get book recommendations from my students. Most often, I am advising them on some great reads. I love to read, period. Summer is my reading time, but I read throughout the year. I have no favorite genre---love cooking, love psychology, love fiction, culture, race and ethnicity, mysteries, leadership and change management, etc.
MR: Is there a book that changed your life?
MRO: I loved Care of the Soul by Thomas More; Song Yet Sung by James McBride; The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haid; The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton, Boys Adrift by Dr. Leonard Sax, Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, to name a few.
MR: Is there a book that people might be surprised to learn you love?
MRO: Anything written by James McBride, and actually, searching and reading aboutmy genealogy. On my dad’s side, we were Russell, Stetson, Buss and Babcock—prominent historical family names.
MR: Are there any books you have read over and over again?
MRO: My own!! HAHA. Song Yet Sung over and over and over! Reframing Organizations by Bolman and Deal!!! Also Lost Horizon and Moveable Feast
MR: Is there an illicit book you had to sneak growing up?
MRO: Growing up in a very small rural western NY town with three sisters, a very protestant father and very Catholic mother, we did not read anything racy. Also, being from a small town, where your great aunt was the librarian and all the neighbors in the town knew every move you make….there was not any opportunity! LOL
MR: You have probably seen it all over the course of your career in the field of student development and student affairs. Have you ever considered writing a novel inspired by some of the many characters you may have come across (yours truly, perhaps…)?
MRO: I have often thought about it, but want to protect the privacy of my students. However, I have some great, unbelievable stories to tell! In addition, I do remember you, Marina, as a student here at Pace!
MR: If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be?
MRO: Probably, JFK, since he was such an inspiring and courageous leader, joining at the table I would love Barack Obama to join us (they in my mind, help to unite our country). I also would love to sit again with my grandmother (Elgie Babcock Russell) and hear more about her childhood……. She always believed she was a DAR (Daughter of the American Revolution) and was frustrated she could not prove it… I did. She was an amazing, generous, warm and caring person with a great deal of spunk!
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