Campus Community / People of SU

Forging New Paths, Building for the Future

Written by Tina Potterf

July 19, 2022

Eduardo Peñalver in the Center for Science and Innovation.

Image credit: Yosef Chaim Kalinko

Eduardo Peñalver looks back on his first year as president while looking ahead to the future of Seattle U. 

In his first full year as President of Seattle University, Eduardo Peñalver’s achievements and high points were manifold, from the filling of several key leadership positions to animating the Reignited Strategic Directions to presiding over the first in-person commencement in three years.

There was the opening of the university’s new state-of-the-art science and engineering building, the Sinegal Center for Science and Innovation, meet-and-greets with alumni, students and their families around the country, men’s basketball home games at Climate Pledge Arena and, oh yeah, meeting Seattle Mariners’ legend Edgar Martinez. All of this and more while navigating a once-in-100-year pandemic. 

At his inauguration, President Peñalver spoke of meeting the moment and how the presidency presents a unique opportunity to help guide the university during challenging times to even higher levels of impact. 

“As a Jesuit Catholic university, Seattle University takes the foundational value of a liberal education and adds to it by embedding it within a value system rooted in the Jesuit commitment of caring for and educating the whole person, ‘mind, body and spirit,’” he says. “Seattle University’s deep commitment to providing an education rooted in engagement with the world could not be more important than it is today. In our country, polarized as we are along political and religious lines, Seattle University’s identity as both Catholic and progressive gives it a distinctive voice as it speaks not only to members of this community, but to the wider community, here in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.”  

Recently, President Peñalver reflected on his first year in office, including what it was like to lead a university during the vicissitudes of the times, plus a prediction for his beloved—and surging—Mariners in this Q&A. 

What are the top 3 highlights of your first year in office?

“First, seeing students, faculty and staff back on campus. There were some setbacks, to be sure, but the year became more normal as it progressed, culminating in our first in-person commencement in three years. Second, welcoming three new deans and three new vice presidents, each of whom is tremendously accomplished and each of whom will contribute to the diversity of our senior leadership team. Finally, reigniting our Strategic Directions process was an important collective achievement for Seattle University. And, then, if I can help myself to a fourth, a personal highlight was having lunch with Edgar Martinez!”

What was it like as a new president to take on this role while navigating the ups and downs of the pandemic? 

“Being a new president as we emerged from the pandemic presented some challenges. Trying to get to know the community—both the Seattle University community and the broader Seattle community (and giving them a chance to get to know me)—while being sensitive to people’s varying comfort levels with in-person meetings, was a complex undertaking. But I am happy with the overall results. Whether in-person or on Zoom, I was able to hear from a broad cross section of our community. I look forward to carrying that effort forward into the new year.”

Looking ahead, what are key priorities or initiatives you are focused on over the next year?

“The work of the Reignited Strategic Directions will be at the center of my attention for the next year and beyond. While the overall plan spans five years, my hope is that each year we will be able to point to concrete initiatives or accomplishments that have made Seattle University a stronger and more vibrant academic community. This year, for example, the addition of the TimelyCare telehealth service to our campus health care offerings and the progress we made diversifying our senior leadership both grew directly out of that process. In addition to the work of the Strategic Directions, I will be focused on welcoming the new senior leaders we hired this year, creating a sense of community among them and setting them up for success.”

What was it like presiding over your first Commencement—and the first in-person in three years?

“Commencement pumped me up. Shaking 1,000 hands might seem exhausting, but I felt more energized at the end of the day than I did in the morning. Climate Pledge Arena looked amazing dressed up in Redhawk red. And the collective energy of our graduates and their families raised the roof.”

Switching gears...

Favorite book you’ve recently read?

Anthony M. Annett’s book, Cathonomics: How Catholic Tradition Can Create a More Just Economy. I am also enjoying David Hoffman’s biography of Oswaldo Paya, Give Me Liberty.

Last TV show you binged?

Doctor Who (the newer version)

As we are at the half-way point of the season, what is your prediction for the Mariners—specifically, will they break the long drought and make it into post-season play? 

“I hate to make any predictions—I don’t want to jinx them. But as we approach the half-way point, they are finally playing like the team we expected in the spring. As players come back from injuries, I think they are going to get even better. My prediction is that their drought ends this year.”

What Others Are Saying…

Shane P. Martin 

“Eduardo’s presidency has invigorated the university with energy and confidence. He is a charismatic and inspirational leader who motivates people to perform at elevated levels. Working with him is professionally engaging and intellectually stimulating. I am very excited about our future growth and development as an academic institution under his leadership.”

Natasha Martin, JD
Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion 

“At the outset, President Peñalver shared his orientation toward leadership—to lead with candor and charity. I was inspired by his articulation then and even more a year later as it is precisely how he has shown up as a leader. He has a way of deftly engaging the challenges before us as a university with both honesty and optimism. … He also empowers us all to bring our best ideas and creative thinking to focus on a promising future for Seattle University. I have been inspired by President Peñalver’s ability to hold in productive tension the need to make bold decisions with the commitment to carefully weigh their possible impact. It takes a great degree of humility and courage to lead with such care.

“In less than a year, for example, President Peñalver not only elevated the university’s commitment to inclusive excellence as a strategic priority but also leaned into the spirit and goals of LIFT SU. … His ambitious vision for SU aligns with my own to make the university inclusively excellent for all who learn, live and work here—a place where our students, faculty and staff can experience a genuine sense of belonging and thriving in service of our Jesuit educational mission. For me, this year has been re-energizing and empowering.”

Ellen Whitlock Baker
Assistant Vice President, Alumni Engagement

“It has been a joy working alongside Eduardo during this first year at Seattle University. He leads with keen intellect and continuous improvement, which pushes us all to stretch and grow outside of the comfort of the familiar to get to where we need to go. It was truly special to watch Eduardo meet alumni, parents and incoming students across the country during the President’s Tour this spring—from immediately changing into the aloha shirt he was gifted at a dinner in Honolulu to joyfully greeting his middle school band teacher in Tacoma to watching him absolutely glow when meeting the parents of a 1L student he’s been mentoring. Eduardo is deeply committed to helping Seattle University engage and honor its alumni community. I couldn’t ask for a better leader and partner in this work.”