On October 2, Sonya Malunda began her tenure as the eighth president of the ACM. In the midst of settling into her new office, getting acquainted with staff, and planning her first visits to ACM campuses, she took time to answer some questions about joining the ACM community.
What drew you to the position of ACM president?
That begins with my own liberal arts experience. I am a proud graduate of Spelman College, a small, private, residential liberal arts college in Atlanta. I’ve always been passionate about what I learned and experienced at Spelman, especially the opportunities I had both to expand my intellectual horizons and to engage in collaborative, outward-facing activities beyond the classroom.
Then there are the ACM colleges. They all have excellent academic reputations and they’ve built a really strong network. When I heard about the position, I said, “Wow, this is something I want to be a part of.”
Institutions can work individually on their own initiatives, but collectively they can make a particularly strong impact.
And, third, is the aspect of collaboration. Throughout my career — in government, banking, and for the last 20 years at the University of Chicago — I’ve worked across multiple audiences and diverse groups to identify and create areas of mutual interest.
One example was my role in creating America’s Urban Campus, a network of 21 colleges and universities based in Chicago. My work on this and other initiatives in the higher education sector convinced me even further that institutions can work individually on their own initiatives, but that collectively they can make a particularly strong impact. The whole idea of collaboration — of colleges working together— is core to my work and who I am as a person. It’s just part of my DNA.
ACM has ongoing collaborations with other consortia of colleges and universities, and I hope we can foster more of those valuable connections and partnerships in the national higher education community.
What aspects of your experiences and professional background do you see as particularly important in your new role?
I think most important, overall, is my ability to build and lead teams and working groups that bring a variety of interests and stakeholders to the table, and then work collaboratively to transform all the energy and ideas generated into concepts, projects, and initiatives that have tangible outcomes.
You have to be open to new and “out of the box” ideas, and bring energy, drive, and passion to the work.
A variety of community engagement initiatives I led at the University of Chicago exemplify that process, such as my work connecting university faculty with community-based partners for their research projects.
As another example, I ran a program that placed about 400 university students as tutors and classroom assistants in a network of 50 schools and community-based organizations on the South Side of Chicago. The students had an opportunity to connect their academic work with practice and neighborhood impact. These off-campus experiences were mutually beneficial. The community partners were able to build their capacity while at the same time the students had a rewarding and impactful experience in the community. Some even went into the teaching profession as a result of the program.
This is the kind of work that motivates and animates me: working through diverse interests and challenges and seeking out common areas of interest and shared goals; identifying the mutual benefits that can sustain relationships; and finding a common vision.
It takes active listening, patience, insight, and engaged participation. You have to invest the time to identify potential areas of collaboration, be open to new and “out of the box” ideas, and bring energy, drive, and passion to the work.
What do you see as ACM’s unique characteristics and strengths to build on?
The ACM consortium has a solid and consistent record of collaboration for nearly 60 years. That’s a real achievement and a powerful foundation for everything that lies ahead. Also, let’s not forget that these 14 colleges are top notch schools. They have an excellent reputation for delivering liberal arts education and creating socially impactful activities for students.
I want to spend time visiting the ACM campuses to listen and learn.
These are things that I know at this point. But to gain a more thorough and intimate understanding of what makes each of the 14 colleges unique, I want to spend time visiting the campuses to listen and learn. So during the next four months, I will visit each of the 14 ACM colleges and meet with faculty, students, deans, presidents, and other administrators to hear their ideas and learn.
I want to understand the history and core mission of each institution, and the opportunities as well as the challenges that they’re facing. I’m interested in learning firsthand what makes each college distinctive, what makes collaboration among this group of colleges critical, and how we can build on this solid foundation to take our work to the next level.
What are you especially looking forward to as you begin working with the ACM colleges, faculty, staff, and students?
Close to home, I look forward to joining the team and working with my ACM colleagues at the consortial office in Chicago. ACM staff members are highly dedicated to the ACM mission. I have great confidence in them.
I invite you to share your thoughts about the impact that ACM has had for you and your institution.
Frankly, I’m honored and humbled by this awesome opportunity.
And, finally, I want to invite everyone in the ACM community to share with me your thoughts about the impact that ACM has had for you and your institution. Have you had an experience fostered by collaboration through ACM that was significant? Has there been something that enhanced your teaching, research, or other aspects of your career? I want to hear your story! Please send it to me at President@ACM.edu.
I am so glad to be here, listening, learning, and beginning our exciting work together! I look forward to reporting annually on our collective success.