New director, new direction for MCAE

New director Fernando Rodriguez aims to usher in change at the University of Minnesota multicultural academic support center.

Courtesy of Fernando Rodriguez.

Courtesy of Fernando Rodriguez.

Jasmine Snow

New leadership at the University of Minnesota’s multicultural academic support center is implementing organizational and staffing changes as its new director settles into his position. 

Last month, the new director of the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence (MCAE), Fernando Rodriguez, met with student staff and presented his vision for the organization, which includes adding staff and relocating a multicultural Living Learning Community. University alum Rodriguez assumed his position last fall.

At the meeting, student staff also voiced concerns about the current and future state of MCAE, the plans for which had to be presented in front of a University body. Students said that despite the program’s promise, the lack of organization and direction has made their position as leaders more difficult. 

“It has been a tremendous transition,” Rodriguez said. “In all, I would describe the last few months as director as difficult, inspiring, challenging but motivating.”

MCAE specializes in academic support for students of color, students with low-income, first-generation students and Indigenous students.

Rodriguez pointed to his identity as a huge influence on how he plans to lead MCAE. He said his background and previous involvement with MCAE when he was a graduate student helped him understand the needs of the students who occupy the space. 

“I’m a first-generation, low-income gay kid from the U.S.-Mexico border,” he said. “My mother worked at Walgreens for 25 years at the cashier, my father was a boot finisher … for 35 years. The reason that’s important is because I am in a space of gratitude, humility and pride that I can stand here as Dr. Fernando Rodriguez, director of [MCAE], because there’s no reason why I should be sitting in that chair.”

Plans already set in motion include the relocation of the LLC Huntley House for African American Men from 17th Avenue Hall to Pioneer Hall next year to increase resources. Rodriguez also plans to expand MCAE staff. 

The staff have already begun expansion with the hiring of Krysta Wetzel in January. Wetzel is the executive office and administrative specialist who is in charge of planning MCAE Kick Off at the beginning of the year and the Celebration of Achievement, an end-of-year ceremony. 

“I think it’s been going pretty well so far,” Wetzel said. “This is a place where I feel like I can grow a lot, and I feel like I have grown a lot in the last three months that I’ve been here.”

The staff expansion also includes at least two new positions with possible additional hires. The two new positions include a senior coordinator of academic initiatives, who would oversee tutoring consultation initiatives, and a senior coordinator of classroom experiences and special events, who would oversee initiatives to give students skills to navigate racial microaggressions. 

Cynthia Moua, a second-year student and staff member at MCAE, has been involved with the program for two years now and said that she is optimistic for MCAE’s new direction. 

“I do really like the vision of [Rodriguez],” Moua said. “I think he’s really trying his best to connect with students and find ways to listen to what students want.”

Rodriguez said his first goal with the changes is to clearly communicate MCAE’s message and purpose to stakeholders, future collaborators and students.

“From beginning to end, through the good and the bad, through the highs and the lows, MCAE’s by your side,” he said.