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Balancing Acts

President Marie Bernardo-Sousa, LP.D., ’92, on Safety and Wildcat Spirit

JWU Providence President Marie Bernardo-Sousa, LP.D., ’92
Providence Campus President Marie Bernardo-Sousa, L.P.D., ’92

Photo by Mike Cohea

Since July, when Johnson & Wales Providence Campus President Marie Bernardo-Sousa, LP.D., 92, was able to return to working part-time from her office, she’s observed the differences 2020 has made on campus. It’s thinned out, for one. To de-densify, the college invited only about half of its usual 5,000 students for in-person instruction, housing only about 1,500 on campus. And when those students arrived for the fall semester, they couldn’t engage in the usual icebreakers and traditions that mark the start of the year.

Take for instance Ignite the Night. The annual celebration in which new students carry a lantern through the college’s gates to symbolize passage into the future was pushed, alas, indoors. Instead of a flame, students got paper lanterns with glow sticks to hang in their rooms or in a window. “It was nice,” Bernardo-Sousa says. “But it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t our students coming together as a community enjoying each other and s’mores by the fire.

The balancing act for Bernardo-Sousa has been taking swift action to keep students safe while also preserving as much normality as possible. Oh, and to do all of that amid a swift-moving pandemic. In January, before the pandemic hit the States, JWU called home all study-abroad students. In March, the university re-opened after a break, only to have to send students away again after just 10 days. After changing the date three times as local cases rose and fell, culinary students resumed their spring term in person. As the fall semester began, students in a few other majors joined them, based on how critically their classes needed in-person instruction.

“We worked very closely with our academic community and evaluated every single course: Can we meet those outcomes remotely or face-to-face?” Bernardo-Sousa says. “The science programs had to be face-to-face. Our physician’s assistant program had to be face-to-face. Our equestrian program had to be face-to-face — there’s no other way to ride a horse.”

JWU students learning from professionals at TD Garden in Boston.
Students learning from professionals at TD Garden

Photo by Mike Cohea

Meanwhile Johnson & Wales has moved to help students’ future prospects. For one, JWU is partnering with businesses who, like the university, are scrambling to solve for the rapid shifts that COVID-19 has brought. Students now have worked alongside such affiliates as Boston’s TD Garden and a Marriott property in Newport, Rhode Island, to tackle questions about how to adjust business operations. For another, an incubator partner in Providence called The Food Innovation Nexus (The FIX) has connected students to a project with Boston Children’s Hospital to improve the hospital’s food service. One upshot of tackling issues brought on by novel coronavirus: In a sense, everyone else is also new at it, so the experience will apply immediately outside of school.

The college is also pressing alumni into service for new alumni who graduated into a job market that cratered practically overnight. An initiative called HIREJWU NOW is actively connecting those grads to jobs, internships, alumni and mentors, tapping JWU’s deep and broad industry connections. In a year when so many interactions have been cut short or made virtual, JWU’s career services staff are working to make sure its young graduates can still get in position to succeed.

“The college years are short,” Bernardo-Sousa says. “The connections you make with your peers and faculty members, those feel different when you’re face-to-face as opposed to a virtual environment.”

The connections you make with your peers and faculty members, those feel different when you’re face-to-face as opposed to a virtual environment. President Bernardo-Sousa, LP.D., '92

The Innovator

Former President Cheryl Richards, Ph.D., on Pivoting for a New Normal

JWU Charlotte President Cheryl Richards, Ph.D.
Former President Cheryl Richards, Ph.D.

Some would call Cheryl Richards, Ph.D., a visionary. Where others see crisis, the former president of JWU’s Charlotte Campus perceives opportunity. Richards started the position mid-June, when COVID-19 meant a new abnormal in higher education protocol.*

Fortunately, this isn’t her first rodeo leading a campus. Since 2011, she served as the founding chief executive officer and regional dean of Northeastern University’s Charlotte Campus. As their chief academic officer, Richards was the dynamo behind the licensure and growth in academic program offerings from eight to more than 50 undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs in hybrid and online formats.

She describes the Johnson & Wales opportunity as a dream come true because it weds education and the culinary field. Both sets of grandparents and her father owned and operated restaurants (as a child, helping the family business meant chilling in the freezer  her grandmother owned a fish distribution company in landlocked Denver). When her father opened his own food brokerage business, her first (unpaid) job was assisting grocery store demonstration displays; Richards later handled the marketing side of that business before unearthing her passion for education.

We need to prepare students to be lifelong learners who can adapt to changing workforce needs. President Richards, Ph.D.

As someone who serves on myriad boards, Richards says the Charlotte community is very focused on relationships; she intends for the university to play a key role as the city pivots in the wake of Covid. “What might those industries be that will create job opportunities?” Richards asks. “There are a large number of Fortune 100 and a ton of small businesses popping up everywhere in the city. The campus was deeply integrated in the Charlotte community when it started here 16 years ago, and the city embraced the school for creating economic vitality. Johnson & Wales has a really unique opportunity to rebuild culinary and hospitality but also an opportunity in business; we are a majority minority campus and employers are looking for diverse talent to solve some of those problems in fields like business, technology and health.

“We are now forced to embrace technology,” she adds.  “The institutions that will survive are the ones that not only think about tech infrastructure for students but what new careers are being spawned. My priority is to ensure we are industry and market-aligned, which is something we did really well back in 2004 when JWU asked the community: What needs do you have and how can we be part of the solution? We want to understand what employers need today and which skills they want for their future. The city needs institutions that are going to shore up some of the workforce gaps; we need to prepare students to be lifelong learners who can adapt to changing workforce needs.”

President Richards observing a baking & pastry class at JWU Charlotte.
President Richards learning from our baking and pastry students.

As the world spins in flux, Richards says she and other JWU administrators are “asking the right questions now to make data-driven decisions” regarding programs and delivery modalities, certificates or corporate training programs, offering a mix of traditional and remote learning. As one example, Richards cites the North Carolina Research Campus. Founded by David Murdock, the former chairman and owner of Dole Food, the institute has nine universities as well as community college campuses with a presence onsite “trying to solve for research and workforce needs,” according to Richards. “Murdock wanted to create opportunities using food as medicine. Our College of Food Innovation & Technology (CFIT) is the perfect place for JWU to be at the table to bridge the gap between those research institutions and community colleges — leveraging our food science knowledge to bring corporations in, for example.”

Richards believes the university can also be central in creating a more equitable society across certain industries: “Around 65% of our students come from economic disadvantage so creating economic opportunities is part of our role. I don’t think it’s solely up to JWU to fix some of the inequities but we don’t want to be outside the conversation when the community is talking about how we are going to come out of this.

“As a community we have an obligation to look at the public policy side of things,” she adds, explaining that public policy advocates, institutions of higher education and business partnerships should collaborate. “Because of the wages and opportunities in the culinary and hospitality fields, it makes it difficult for individuals who have a passion in those areas to turn it into a career. JWU can have a voice in terms of improving access to the industry, improving wages and leveraging for reskilling and retraining. We want to be part of ideating the solution and collaborating with our business partners rather than being absent and trying to retrofit our approach.”

*Richards ended her tenure at the Charlotte Campus in mid-October, 2021.

JWU’s Food Innovation Design Lab in action.

A partnership between the Food Innovation Nexus and Johnson & Wales promises to revolutionize food, medicine and health.

JWU Charlotte Chef on Assignment Peter Reinhart interviews Harry Peemoeller about bread.

JWU Charlotte Chef on Assignment Peter Reinhart has created an incredible forum where the worlds bread experts are able to share their knowledge.

JWU Charlotte Chef on Assignment Peter Reinhart interviews Harry Peemoeller about bread.

JWU Charlotte Chef on Assignment Peter Reinhart shares big ideas and takeaways from JWU Charlotte’s first annual Bread Symposium.