During the first days of his administration, the Technique sat down with President Cabrera to discuss his goals for his term and the future of Tech. Cabrera described his first week as “intense, emotional and fun,” noting the “surreal” nature of returning to the school to which he came for his graduate studies. Cabrera, an alumni twice over, was the 11th President of the Thunderbird School of Global Management at George Mason University (GMU), and later the 6th President of George Mason from 2012 to 2019. He officially assumed office at the Institute Sept. 1, 2019.
President Cabrera received both his MS and Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Tech and served as a member of the Advisory Board. Both his wife and son graduated from Tech.
The Technique began the interview discussing the changes to the campus since Cabrera had last been a student. According to the President, the overall structure is the same, but the physical architecture of the campus is much nicer and more walkable. Cabrera commented that the expansion onto Tech Square was “fabulous,” and that the development of West Campus has been “unbelievable.” “It is a much nicer campus than it was years ago,” Cabrera said with a smile.
“I think there is a student culture I totally recognize. The student body, though, is more diverse — which is great!” he said, citing the increased number of women and international students on the campus. “Diversity makes institutions of higher education better places to learn,” Cabrera added.
As for what was most recognizable to him, Cabrera stated that the “interest and love for technology, even among people who are not majoring in engineering,” as well as “the intensity of the academic experience hasn’t changed, and yet, I think it’s a more fun student experience than people give us credit for.” President Cabrera, having spoken to members of the Georgia Tech Advisory Board about the current culture of campus, said that our campus exudes “excellence without arrogance,” complimenting the hardworking and talented students on campus.
The Technique asked about his time at George Mason University and what he believed his legacy might be now that he has moved on from Virginia. The Technique touched on issues such as enrollment growth and establishing new schools within GMU. “The person involved is the least able to answer that [question],” Cabrera said when asked to describe his greatest accomplishments.
According to the numbers, the university became a Research 1 university and George Mason accounted for over 64% of growth in Virginia during Cabrera’s administration.
“I can give you an official list of all the cool things that happened on my watch, and yet, is that the legacy?” He wanted to emphasize the shared mission of his administration and coworkers at George Mason rather than his own personal accomplishments, but stated that he was very proud of the work he had done there.
In regards to his focus at Tech, Cabrera stated that every school is different, despite him being the same. The context through which he will make his decisions will change based on the student body and the goings on at Tech. He stated that the outcomes of his work here would vary from those at George Mason University. President Cabrera intends to uphold the “tenets of higher education,” as he is a product of it. Additionally, he believes in maintaining excellence at Tech while also working to provide access to higher education for all.
Having been a student at Tech, Cabrera is “very, very vested” in the success of the Institute, but he “has a lot of homework to do” before the work can truly begin.
Under President Emeritus Peterson, growth, quantity, research and infrastructure have flourished, but according to President Cabrera, “there are a few things that need to be taken care of.” President Emeritus Peterson developed and began the implementation of a 25-year strategic plan, “Designing the Future.”
President Cabrera intends to make a similar move, taking his first year to survey the problems and the successes at Tech before crafting his own strategic plan. The administration needs to decide “the next chapter” of Tech’s history and the new “wave of aspirations.”
At the time of the interview, President Cabrera had already met with a group of student leaders including members of the Student Government Association in order to set up mechanisms to get input from students. The Strategic Plan intends to involve open forums to extract aspirations of all the constituents at Tech. In addition to what they do on an ongoing basis, the administration will have a “good opportunity to increase the level of dialogue.”
So far, President Cabrera has made good on his promise, as visioning sessions are taking place this and next semester so that students may voice their opinions and start to collaboratively form the strategic plan with the new President.
But President Cabrera is not only looking to address the long term. He mentioned several immediate issues that need to be resolved.
“We’re not pausing, we’re not stopping, we are keeping momentum,” Cabrera said. While working on these short term issues, Cabrera hopes to simultaneously work toward a long term agenda that continually addresses these issues for the foreseeable future.
“Clearly it’s been a tough last two years,” Cabrera said. “The ethical culture of the Institute has been questioned and we have to address that.”
President Cabrera is already prioritizing transparency, an issue that is especially important now after the ethics violations of the past year by top Tech administrators. Immediately, Cabrera’s focus has been to restructure. General Counsel Ling-Ling Nie, hired by President Emeritus Peterson, is charged to be the Institute’s attorney and to be the champion of ethical conduct at the Institute. The General Counsel’s job is “to be better and to do better.”
Other restructuring initiatives include the shifting of responsibility of responding to legal requests, in intentional and transparent ways, from the General Counsel to Institute Communications.
“[We] have to do a much better job of communicating [our] story,” said Cabrera, who hopes that Institute Communications, “[whose] job is to tell our story,” will thrive under this new role.
The other major issue Cabrera hopes to immediately address is mental health on campus.
“I share the concern … it comes up in all conversations,” Cabrera said. “We have seen the consequences of [Tech’s mental health crisis] two years ago in a very painful way on this campus. We need to address this.”
Since this interview, the CARE center has opened and currently has two working case managers that are seeing patients daily.
President Cabrera intends to know exactly what’s going on with mental health initiatives, including the Campus Safety Action Team, and he wants to know what has been implemented, what’s been discussed and wants to insert himself in those conversations. By all accounts, he has done so, meeting with the members of SGA about these topics and ongoing issues related to them.
On Oct. 28, Cabrera was formally confirmed as the President of the Georgia Institute of Technology at his Investiture, having announced the start of the “appreciative inquiry” into crafting his and the constituents of Tech’s vision just two weeks earlier.
For now, President Cabrera encourages the student body to “dream bigger,” and imagine what would make Tech the best it can be. More information about the ongoing visioning sessions and how students can get involved in the creation of the Strategic Plan can be found at strategicplan.gatech.edu.