The American Council on Education (ACE) Fellowship is a professional development program designed for emerging leaders in education. ACE Fellow Dereck Rovaris recounts how his time at DePaul affected his approach to diversity.
By Jacob Sabolo (LAS ’12)
In many ways, 2008 was an extraordinary year for Dereck Rovaris. Not only did he begin his American Council on Education (ACE) Fellowship at DePaul, but he was also living in Chicago when former President Barack Obama won his historic first presidential election. The possibilities of the future made Rovaris eager to work closely with the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., to become a leader in higher education.
Initially, Rovaris was reluctant to pursue his fellowship at DePaul. He worked at Xavier University of Louisiana, a Catholic institution, and wanted to be placed in a public university or college. Despite his hesitancy, he visited DePaul and two other universities during the matching process. While he was impressed by them all, Rovaris ultimately chose DePaul because of the tremendous experience that Fr. Holtschneider promised him. Rovaris remembers thinking, “This guy knows what he’s doing—I could learn a lot from him.”
During his fellowship, not a week went by without Rovaris meeting someone new or visiting a new academic or administrative office. Rovaris’ close work with David Kalsbeek, senior vice president of enrollment management and marketing, inspired Rovaris to explore introducing an enrollment and marketing program at Xavier. Additionally, he draws from his experience working with Liz Ortiz, vice president for institutional diversity and equity, in his current role as the vice provost for diversity at Louisiana State University.
Because he was shadowing Fr. Holtschneider, Rovaris was truly immersed in life at DePaul. He understands on a personal level why students choose the university and why they are drawn to its unique environment. “What was impressive to me was, in the midst of its Catholicity, it embraced diversity,” he says. In fact, he was shocked by how supportive DePaul was of all of its students. He recounts visiting a Muslim prayer room in the Student Center on the Lincoln Park Campus and appreciating the support services for LGBTQA students.
“There was a commitment to community that was palpable … Students were engaged in volunteer hours and working amongst their neighbors and members of the greater Chicago area … [The] idyllic location in a city like Chicago, with two campuses, one kind of concrete and glass, the other [with] a more collegiate feel, really endeared the university to me.” He explains that DePaul’s mission taught him that no matter how high you advance in higher education or any professional field, you must always give back and help others.
Rovaris credits his ability to be a strong leader to his time at DePaul with Fr. Holtschneider. “I learned from Father Dennis how to lead from the front, from the side and from the back. Sometimes you gently push, sometimes you drag and sometimes you actually have to force hands … but it’s always done with compassion,” he explains. Rovaris is proud that Fr. Holtschneider was recognized by ACE in 2015 for his outstanding contributions to the Fellows Program and the lasting impact he made on the fellows he supported. “I now count him as not only my mentor, but also my very good friend.”