ACE Fellow Has Widener “Talking about How We Do Things -- and How We Can Do Them Better”

Zora DeSeignora ’23 Communications Studies and Spanish
ACE Fellow Caroline Pezzarossi poses for a photo outside with President Julie Wollman.
Caroline Kobek Pezzarossi, left, is at Widener through the American Council on Education (ACE) Fellowship, one of the nation’s premier leadership development programs. President Julie E. Wollman is her mentor.

Widener’s approach to student-centered learning and commitment to social justice and inclusivity were powerful motivators that lured a Washington, D.C. psychology professor to campus for a personalized hands-on learning experience.

Caroline Kobek Pezzarossi is at Widener as an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow. The ACE Fellowship is among our nation’s premier leadership development programs. ACE Fellows experience a year at a university, developing leadership skills they can bring back to their home university and apply in new roles. The customized experience allows participants to immerse themselves in the study and practice of leadership.

After interviewing with Widener and two other universities, Kobek Pezzarossi chose to come to Widener. Her decision was not unlike Widener undergraduate and graduate students who select the university for its student-focused approach and its ideal location near Philadelphia. In addition, she wanted to learn from Widener President Julie E. Wollman, a distinguished female leader in higher education, and explore the university’s approach to social justice, its commitment to diversity and the local community, and its nationally recognized Common Ground Initiative

“Widener’s community engagement here was key. It was just fantastic and the commitment to the students was an important factor for me” she said.

Kobek Pezzarossi is a Professor of Psychology at Gallaudet University in Washington, and is currently serving as the Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Certification. Gallaudet is the only university in the world where students live and learn using American Sign Language, or ASL, and English. Kobek Pezzarossi is Deaf and works with an ASL interpreter when she is on the Widener campus, which is about one week each month.

“Dr. Kobek Pezzarossi has been a dynamic and valued addition to our team,” said Wollman, who serves as her ACE Fellowship mentor. “She is focusing her time and attention on important topics, and her efforts have all of us talking and thinking about how we do things, how we can do them better, and how we can be more inclusive, with an outstanding student experience as our guidepost. It is truly a pleasure to work with her and learn from her.”

During her time at Widener, Kobek Pezzarossi is working on four areas of study:

  • Faculty leadership.
  • Assessing crisis.
  • Anti-racism and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Expanding online programs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on these areas, and she sees them as essential for administration in higher education in the future. Faculty and staff leadership and representation are personally important to her. Her status as an administrator who happens to be Deaf gives her a unique appreciation for the importance of inclusion.

“Dr. Kobek Pezzarossi has made enormous contributions to our conversations at Widener and has helped us look at things from a different perspective,” said Katie Herschede, vice president for Strategic Initiatives and chief of staff. “We are gaining tremendously from her experience and her experience working with Gallaudet. Gallaudet is a special institution and Widener can learn a lot from them, especially when it comes to accessibility. This is a tremendous opportunity for all of us.”

Kobek Pezzarossi earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Lenoir-Rhyne University, a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling for People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing from the University of Arkansas, and a master’s degree and Ph.D., both in clinical psychology, from Gallaudet University Her desires to continue learning, growing, and engaging in the community have driven her to work with students.

Kobek Pezzarossi loves when students evolve and find their paths both professionally and personally and hopes to bring lessons from her experiences at Widener back to Gallaudet. She is looking to learn more about Widener’s robust commitment to community engagement so she can use it to educate her students in D.C., and possibly forge partnerships between the two universities in the future.

“The pursuit of learning is why I’m here,” she said. “Widener gives me the opportunity to grow and to learn.”

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