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Marlene De La Cruz-Guzmán

A Q&A with Ohio University’s new OMSAR director

Former learning specialist at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, Marlene De La Cruz-Guzmán is the new OMSAR director

When Cecil Walters resigned in the spring, the Office for Multicultural Student Access and Retention (OMSAR) was left without a director.

OMSAR is a component of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion. Some of its major initiatives include LINKS, a peer mentoring program for first-year multicultural students, and the recently funded Ohio Reach Scholars Program, which aims to improve retention rates for students coming from the foster care system.

The office opened up the application pool to anyone in the country, but ended up hiring Marlene De La Cruz-Guzmán, formerly a learning specialist for Student Affairs in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine for about four years.

“Thankfully, I was already at OU, so I could hit the ground running,” she said.

The Post had the chance to talk with the new OMSAR director about the transition and her plans for her new position.

The Post: What made you want to apply for the job?

Marlene De La Cruz-Guzmán: My position at the medical school was a good one while I was writing my dissertation. … Really, my passion is working with multicultural students. That’s what I did at Marquette University as an assistant dean, and that’s what I loved. So that’s what I wanted to get back to, but I also know that it’s the kind of work that infuses all of your life. I knew I couldn’t also do it as job while I was doing my dissertation.

P: What kind of different opportunities does this job give you than being a learning specialist?

M: The opportunity to work full-time with multicultural students. In the other position, I was very fortunate because the medical school is very progressive. So I was able to create opportunities for myself to work with multicultural students, but it was not something that constituted full-time of my work. This position really allows me to focus all of my energy on retention and trying to get more students in recruitment.

P: How was the interview process?

M: It was pretty straightforward, I think. I met people across campus that are stakeholders for the retention of students, had a presentation and then met with the directors. The wonderful thing about it, actually, was there were over 30 people at my presentation and they were all people who care about multicultural students. … I was really moved by having all those people around the table letting me know how they would be supporting the future director of OMSAR.

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P: Tell me about your heritage and how you can relate to the multicultural students.

M: I’m a first generation Latina from Guatemala. I relate to a lot of the experiences you have as a first-year student when you’re not exactly sure where to go for something. … Sometimes it’s just things being intimidating, especially academically.  

I also did my bachelor’s in theology, but it was intimidating. People sometimes look at you and say, ‘What are you doing in an English department? Why aren’t you in Spanish or doing something else?’ And (I’m) standing there wide-eyed in front of a professor saying, ‘But I love English literature, and this is what I want to study.’ But, feeling like I had to justify myself because of my own background — I’m familiar with these troubles and some folks don’t understand. One of the things I love about this position and the work that we do in this office is that we do understand, and we’re here for all students.

P: What are some challenges you think you will face?

M: We’re incredibly successful with the LINKS program. … It’s grown so much in terms of making sure we staff and support correctly all of the students and that we’re also following up with our upperclass students.

P: What are you most excited about in getting involved with OMSAR?

M: I’ll be able to continue the direct advising of students and peer mentors, which will be wonderful. I’m also excited about the bridges that we’re building across campus to bring to the forefront the strengths that we have in multicultural students and the initiatives we have are still very successful. Because our retention rates are amazing, and a lot of the campus doesn’t realize that we’re very successful.

P: What is the most intimidating part of transitioning to the new role?

M: I have to make sure that we are building alliances across campus and that’s its own job. But I have to put that on top of this incredibly successful LINKS program and the new initiative. So I don’t see it as a bad challenge, but as a challenge of time. It’s the beauty of being successful at what we do and knowing we can do more. We have a social responsibility to reach out to other colleges, to other administrators and faculty to build more because our multicultural students are excellent, and we need to support them.

P: Do you have concerns with the diversity at OU?

M: I think we’re all going to continue to work on … diversifying OU, to work on more initiatives that allow us to take into account intersectionality and to be able to make this campus even stronger through the diversity that we have and that we continue to build.


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