Mari Castañeda, PhD

Dean of Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst
HERS Institute Alumna, Class of 2019

Dr. Mari Castañeda was named the new Dean of the Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in January 2020. She previously served as a Professor of Communication and the Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. A 1993 graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, Dr. Castañeda earned a B.A. in communications, with an emphasis on Chicana/Latino studies and media studies. She has a Ph.D. in communication from the University of California, San Diego.  

Dr. Castañeda shared how the HERS Leadership Institute helped her see her full potential as an inclusive academic leader who could positively influence change and sharpened her administrative expertise in managing budgets and creating financial transparency.   


What brought you to the HERS Leadership Institute? What was your title when you attended, and did anyone encourages or support your attendance?   

When I attended the HERS Leadership Institute, I was chair of my department. What brought me to HERS were the many alumnae who raved about the experience and connections they developed. I wanted to be part of such an experience.  

What do you value most from your Leadership Institute Experience?  

I value so many things, but most of all, the development of connections and friendships as well as the knowledge that the speakers and HERSters shared.   

Of the curriculum modules, which stuck out to you the most and why? 

The module that stands out the most is the one on inclusive leadership. I was moved deeply by the curriculum because it is something I strive for and aim to embody in all I do.  

What from the curriculum and experience at HERS did you immediately bring back to your institution and colleagues?   

The main take-away I brought back to my campus was the importance of understanding budgets and finances. As soon as I returned to campus, I decided to develop a thorough process of transparency.  

How relevant and important have the insights gained from Leadership Institute continued to be to your leadership development?    

The insights I gained through the Leadership Institute have remained relevant and critical for my leadership development because it has helped me see my potential impact in higher education and the possibilities.   

How did HERS impact your leadership trajectory?  

HERS impacted my leadership trajectory because it helped me become open to seeing myself as an academic leader who could positively influence change.  

What advice would you give to a woman who wants to advance their higher education career but is uncertain about when and how to do it?  

I would tell them to connect with a woman that they see as a role model in higher education leadership and ask them how they arrived at their position. It is incredible how generous people are and their willingness to share their experiences.  

How would you describe your cohort?   

My cohort of HERS sisters are funny, spirited, committed, brilliant, loving, and supportive.