BOZEMAN – The sun shines on the campus of Montana State University and the sidewalks are void of students as they enjoy spring break, but upstairs in Montana Hall – history.
Waded Cruzado is the first woman president of Montana State University and she would like to see that change.
“Hopefully there will come a time when having a woman in a position of responsibility, it’s not a piece of news, it’s something normal,” she said.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Cruzado was the first person to have the opportunity to go to college. She completed her undergraduate degree in comparative literature at the University of Puerto Rico, and then went on to earn her Ph.D. in humanities at the University of Texas-Arlington after also earning her masters in Spanish there.
Cruzado found herself leading MSU by way of enchantment after a friend and told her about an open position.
“All of a sudden, I went to my interview there [New Mexico State University] and imagine, Puerto Rico is known as the ‘Island of Enchantment’ and low and behold, I arrive to New Mexico and it’s known as the ‘Land of Enchantment!’ I thought I was crossing the twilight zone,” she exclaimed.
She served as the interim president of NMSU from 2008 until 2009, “Until Montana State University came calling and the rest is history,” she said with a wide grin.
The Puerto Rico native first stepped foot on the Gallatin Valley campus in 2010. Now the 12th president in MSU history, Cruzado became a crusader for innovation and helping others succeed.
“It’s not about the lonely leader doing things by himself or herself,” she said with conviction. “We are the ones who need to identify talent and to tell people, ‘I know you can do this,’ or sometimes you need to say, ‘I need your help.’ And that’s when it happens, that’s when the magic happens.”
Over the last decade, the Bobcats have reached unprecedented levels of success. From setting enrollment records to expanding student opportunities, Cruzado has been there for it all. The spring 2018 semester began with almost 15,500 students, which is up significantly from the 12,000 in 2010 when she assumed the presidency.
In 2011, the university secured the largest private donation in the history of the Montana University System; a $25 million gift from alumnus Jake Jabs to the college of business. Then, just three years later, the university shattered that record with a donation of $50 million from alumnus Norm Asbjornson for the college of engineering.
Cruzado said the growth, expansion and fundraising are all part of her vision.
“To be in class and in lab and in the field, learning from the successes and mistakes of our faculty and researchers so they learn by doing,” she explained about the importance of students getting out of the classroom. “So that they learn that sometimes you fail, and then it’s important for you to be resilient and come back”
Resiliency is a theme she wants everyone, especially women, to embrace.
“What’s so sad is sometimes we see very talented women who are not self-assured, who are always second-guessing themselves, who are always thinking, ‘Well, I’m not ready yet or I’m not good enough.’ No – you have some important things that the world needs to see,” Cruzado said.
From being a first-generation college student to leading Montana State University, she said she never thought she would be sitting where she is now.
“Did I ever envision myself servicing as a president of a university in Montana? The answer is well not really,” she said with a chuckle.
But the significance of her position has not been lost.
“You start understanding how important it is for people. When I saw the faces of young girls and young women telling me how important it was for them that there was a woman in that position, then it dawned on me that I needed to do it in a very special way so that they feel proud, but that they also feel that women normally do this,” explained Cruzado.
She wants to see MSU continue to grow and excel, which includes having more extension offices around the state. That, as she explained, would show people that, “We are right there with you in your communities giving you access to the best information that we have. But also opening doors to your sons and daughters.”
The idea of opportunity is something Cruzado said everyone can have a hand in creating.
“We have a lot of needs in this world and we need all the talents; men’s and women’s talents making sure that we be a better place. Put yourself in a place where you can shine, and then help others.”
While in a very important and serious role, Cruzado also said it’s important not to take yourself too seriously.
“If you’re with your coworkers, make sure you’re not prickly, that you’re there to help. Have a sense of humor for goodness sake! There’s nothing that illuminates a difficult conversation than a smile,” she said with a smile.
But she did say one thing she wanted everyone not to forget.
“Accept the fact that you have talents. Find it inside yourself and then have the trust and confidence to put it out there in the world.”
Reporting by Mikenzie Frost for MTN News