Hug Your Cactus
Since joining the University of San Francisco community in 2000, Dr. Charlene P. Lobo Soriano has held a number of leadership roles at the university. Currently, she serves as the Associate Dean, Retention and Persistence Programs. She is also a university Success Coach and Director of Academic Development and Technological Innovation in Advising.
Inspired by her dedication to students and her successful career in education, we asked Dr. Lobo Soriano for advice on how women can advance their careers while staying true to their life’s mission.
Education leaders sometimes worry that the higher they go, the more disconnected they’ll be from the community they serve. How have you held tight to your original intention of working with students as you have advanced in your career?
What I realized throughout most of my career was that working directly with students was almost never what I was specifically hired to do. I’ve always asked to work with students. For the past 21 of years, I’ve served first-generation college students, students of color, and undocumented students. I know that I was hired to run a learning center, and assist with orientation. However, I wanted to dedicate a portion of my time to work with this population of students.
What’s been helpful is that I’ve demonstrated a commitment to the work I’ve advocated for. You don't want people to think that what you’re asking for is a passion project. I let people know that this work defines who I am as a professional and a human being.
Mentorship is a significant component of the Muscat Scholars Program. Can you share with us your views on mentoring?
Starting from a professional lens, you have to take responsibility for finding yourself a good mentor. Never assume that your supervisor is going to be that person. I’ve been very fortunate to have had very good supervisors who have mentored me. A good mentor doesn’t keep you in your zone. A good mentor is going to push you.
The flip side to that question is: “How do you do that for others?”
I am very hands-on with the people that I mentor in an effort to try to help them level up: this is where you are now, and after I’m done with you, I want you here, even higher. My students’ dreams, my staffs’ dreams, are inevitably tied to my dream for them. Anything I can do to help them, I do it. A good mentor knows that being a mentor is a big deal and takes that responsibility seriously.
What advice do you have for young people seeking careers in education and looking to move into positions of leadership within our organizations?
My advice is to never doubt your self-worth and that you are worth taking risks. You deserve all that life has to offer — especially a good job where you’re respected and you can grow. The moment you don’t think you’re worth it is when you stop stretching for all the things you deserve. For me, I need to do more research and network more because that what my career trajectory needs. I’m worth it, so I'm going to seek out.
My second piece of advice is to hug your cactus. Embrace the things that could be difficult for you. How are you going to get the promotion without asking? Even more simple, how are you going to change your relationship with your partner without talking to them? Sometimes, hugging your cactus is all it takes. Don’t be afraid.