President's Office  

Meet Juan R. Olivarez, Ph.D.

A round of Q&A with the seventh president of Aquinas College.

President Olivarez



“To lead Aquinas College is truly a privilege and an honor. I am well prepared for the challenges and opportunities this position holds.”


- Dr. Juan Olivarez


You’re an alumnus of Aquinas. What are your feelings about the College?

I have a special passion for Aquinas. Aquinas took me, wrapped its arms around me and made me very successful in school and beyond. I grew up at Aquinas. I feel that Aquinas made me who I am and laid a lot of the groundwork for what I believe in, in part because of the interactions that I had with my fellow students and the faculty and staff that supported us.


I am thrilled to come back home to lead Aquinas College into the next phase. I graduated from here, I met my wife here and we've stayed connected over the years, so I have a strong affinity for Aquinas. As I've said before, Aquinas changed my life.

As a proud graduate of Aquinas I understand and enthusiastically uphold and support the Catholic and Dominican mission of the institution. I consider AQ to have given me the solid foundation for a gratifying career with the values and vision of working in community and for the betterment of the common good.
What are your plans for engaging with the Aquinas community?

I have learned that one of the best ways to engage a campus community is to inspire all to embrace the mission and vision of the institution. Providing a variety of venues and opportunities for participation is critical in engaging everyone. Continuous information is also important to assure everyone knows the direction and accomplishments of the College.

How do you plan to work with students?
I love to collaborate with students. They give us lots of good ideas. I think they’re a major part of who we need to listen to. I want to get to know the students - I like that direct contact with the students. I think that’s important.
How do you plan to continue strengthening the College’s Catholic identity and Dominican values?
I plan to spend time learning the current process used for articulating and promoting our Catholic identity and Dominican values, both internally and externally. I understand and can speak to the essence of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, though I am new to this doctrine never having worked in the Catholic educational systems. I am committed to learning more about this apostolic constitution and learning more about Aquinas’ practices to honor these expectations.
I was born into a Roman Catholic family and have practiced the Church’s tenets and traditions throughout my life. My wife, Mary, and I belong to St. Robert’s Church in Ada. In past years we were members at St. Andrew’s Cathedral and we were married at St. Stephen’s Church (in Grand Rapids).
What do you feel are important qualities for the College and its leadership to possess?
High ethical standards and integrity must be at the core of all organizations. I hold myself to the highest ethical standards in all that I do. As a leader, I also have these expectations of others. Communication is the glue that holds us together. Collaborative decision-making and the ability to communicate effectively are often noted as strengths of mine. Communication is one of those areas where you continuously have to look for new and effective ways to connect to all constituents.
What kind of leader are you?
I believe in serving others. I’ve always had that kind of philosophy. I like and expect participation. I think it’s important to get everyone involved in what is going on. I believe everyone needs to have some ownership. I like to be inclusive. I believe inclusivity makes everything a lot richer. I believe everyone has a role to play and an important job, no matter what it is. I believe in collaboration. It’s the way the world works. We do our best in collaboration. That is part of how I like to operate and part of what I expect as a leader in the organization. Making sure that we're listening and learning from each other all the time.
What does being President of Aquinas College mean to you?
This job means coming back home to Aquinas. Serving in this role means I can give back of my knowledge, skills and experience. I’m hoping to be able to work with the faculty and staff, the Board and the students to take Aquinas forward and create the next chapter. I am well suited for this position given my knowledge, skills, experience, and passion for advancing Aquinas College to the next level of excellence.