The start of this academic year marks the beginning of the new semester calendar at RIT. Leading the university through the three-year-long process of calendar transition has been J. Fernando Naveda.
Born in Toluca, Mexico, Naveda sought out the position of calendar conversion director with the motto “If it ain’t worth failing at, it ain’t worth doing.” RIT Provost Jeremy Haefner named Naveda to the position in 2010. Naveda previously served as chair of the software engineering department at RIT, a program that he helped to create.
“I knew I needed someone who was really capable of looking at the big picture and yet had to have great attention to details,” says Haefner. “Fernando came from software engineering, a discipline that has its foundation in system thinking, so I was fortunate when he applied for the position.”
How were you selected as the head of semester conversion?
Naveda: Provost Haefner announced the opening and he provided the qualifications. When I interviewed for the position, he asked me why I wanted this job and I replied that it’s because of its many uncertainties, risks and challenges. I met two individuals who also applied for this position, which was a humbling experience because I think that either of them could have done a tremendous job.
What is it like to be the person responsible for completely changing the calendar system of a major university?
Naveda: The beauty of this project, in my view, is that once the decision was made to switch calendars, there was no way out. Therefore, the switch to semesters was to happen with or without me. Having said that, being the point person for the calendar conversion was a combination of challenge and fear.
What were some of the challenges?
Naveda: Many decisions were made in almost real time. We needed to ask many questions, and in numerous cases we did not even know what those questions were. It was a process of discovery and discussion.
The zenith of all we did over the three years of conversion was the rollout of our first schedule of fall semester courses. By the end of May 2013, some 9,000 students had registered for fall 2013 semester courses. I started breathing more easily as student scheduling issues for the fall were negligible. Every day that goes by without major issues, our confidence in our work grows stronger.
Organizing disjointed teams was a great exercise that we managed by working closely with each team leader. Great undertakings like these succeed not because of a single individual; they succeed because we all work together. Along the way, I was lucky to work closely with amazing individuals such as Chandra McKenzie, Joe Loffredo, Chris Licata, Jeremy Haefner, the chairs and members of the various calendar conversion committees, the deans, and my support personnel, including the very capable people who work in Academic Affairs.
Has the process changed you as a person? As a professor?
Naveda: Yes. In my capacity as department chair, I was used to writing documents and communications to faculty and students only. But communicating with an entire university is a different and challenging task. Therefore, I learned to write long memorandums and communications, and about making the same presentation to different groups.
The feeling of being responsible for many things at once was the fuel that kept me coming to work every day. Knowing that our work would change this university forever was a strong motivator to getting things done. I guess it was my academic and professional training that helped me organize this complex project.
When you work on a project like this, you understand a lot of things about how a large organization works. It is a humbling experience to realize that people around the university await your decisions and follow your guidelines, plans and instructions. The experience has taught me many things about myself. At the end of the day, I still go home and sit at the table with my family. I am confident that I have earned the right to tell my daughter and son that doing your best is always the right way.