Jeanette Mendez strives to be an advocate for success at Oklahoma State. Working behind the scenes and filling crucial positions wherever the university needs are the essence of Mendez’s resume.
Mendez’s record paints her as the go-to super-sub for ensuring harmony within faculty and administration. History repeats itself as Mendez prepares to fill the position of interim provost.
At the beginning of January, it was announced that the Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, Gary Sandefur, would be stepping down from his position. His retirement is set to be effective on March 31, just two months before current Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis’s retirement is also made official.
Jeanette Mendez has been part of the OSU faculty since 2005 and is currently a political science professor. With a bachelor’s degree in combined science and master’s as well as a doctorate in political science, Mendez has found passion in teaching as well as administration.
Her history within OSU has ranged from interim dean for the College of Arts and Sciences to department head of CAS and being ready to serve wherever the school has needed her.
“This is my second year in the provost’s office being the vice provost for undergraduate affairs, and so I’ve been working extremely closely with our provost,” Mendez said. “The things that I’m doing on the undergraduate side and working closely with the provost already, being in those meetings, meeting with the deans frequently, meeting with our vice president of administration and finance frequently. Those are all the kind of ‘on the job training,’ that would be necessary of being an interim provost or provost, and so I think with the transitioning it will help in that way.”
Mendez is confident in this position and has expressed a great desire to do well in the duties that she will be tackling later in the spring.
“As interim provost, I’ll continue working with our vice provost for undergraduate education as well as our vice provost and graduate dean,” Mendez said. “I will work closely with all of the deans, meeting with them monthly, sometimes more than that, and really just providing advice and counsel to the colleges as we’re moving forward and navigating.”
Mendez is entering this position at a time when not only the current provost but the current president as well, have both set retirement dates within two months of each other. With both positions changing holders at roughly the same time, a smooth transition is a desire for Mendez.
“I hope people would know that I’ve spent a while working with our current provost, and specifically in the last few months, really preparing for the transition,” Mendez said. “So that’s my ultimate goal, is that I would want to see a seamless transition.”
The process of starting a national search and process of hiring a new provost is delayed due to the ongoing search for a new president. This will lead to Mendez holding the position of interim provost for an extended amount of time.
“A rough guess is 15 months. Normally academic appointments follow a life cycle. So we’ll get a new president, that president will start this summer, I would expect that sometime in the fall that we would do a national search for a new provost,” Mendez said. “We’ve heard of a few examples recently where people have gone through like four or five presidents and three or four provosts in a short amount or period of time. We’re just so lucky at OSU that we haven’t had that, that we haven’t seen that change in quite a while.”
Regardless of how long she will hold the position, Mendez is determined to give it her all. With a background in being a student, faculty member, professor and even administrative positions, Mendez feels that she has an understanding of the many different positions and connections of the school and how they relate to one another.
“I also had served in arts and sciences, I was the interim dean for a year, I was the associate dean of research for two years, so I think all of that helps give me perspective in being interim provost,” Mendez said.
Mendez was not always set on being in the administrative sector of college function.
“I never had any intention of being an administrator. I love being a faculty member, I love teaching classes, I love doing my research and just opportunities put me in different places, so I always say that I’ll go where the university needs me,” Mendez said.
While excited to pursue this new adventure and continue her past trend of “taking on new challenges,” Mendez does not know if her time in the provost’s chair will extend past those supposed 15 months. Mendez discussed the possibility of applying for the position herself.
“I am not sure at this moment, but I am certainly looking forward to learning more about the position and really just being in a position to best help OSU. That’s really what I’m here for,” said Mendez.
Even with many changes happening in a short amount of time, Mendez is determined to continue to be the biggest advocate for OSU’s success.
“I always think as an administrator that the biggest thing I could do is be there to support everyone and advocate and be the biggest resource. I’m always fighting for our faculty and our staff and our students and making sure we’re doing the best job possible,” Mendez said. “Someone told me long ago that change brings opportunity. I think it’s really easy in an institution where we haven’t had a lot of change at the provost and presidential level for quite a while now to be nervous or too uncertain of what that means. But the day-to-day function of our university from our faculty, our staff, our student body, the core is not changing.”
Mendez encourages that even though big changes are coming, the values and commitment for success that drives OSU to be a great school will not change.
“We are not going to have some massive change that’s going to pull us or derail us or move us in a different direction. I think all of us are committed to what OSU is and who we are as a family.”