Pardis Mahdavi, PhD, is Provost and Executive Vice President at the University of Montana. She formerly worked at Arizona State University as a professor and the dean of the social sciences. Mahdavi’s approach to higher education is influenced by both her own experience as an Iranian-American woman growing up in the United States and her anthropological background, which taught her to be reflective about intricate power relations. Her areas of interest in study relate to shifting political and social systems and include gendered labor, human trafficking, migration, sexuality, human rights, transnational feminism, and public health.
She served as the Josef Korbel School of International Studies’ acting dean at the University of Denver before joining ASU. She worked at Pomona College from 2006 until 2017, where she most recently held the positions of professor and chair of anthropology, director of the Pacific Basin Institute, and dean of women, before moving to Denver.
She has written and published five books under her own name, one edited book, as well as countless journal and news pieces. She has held fellowships at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the American Council on Learned Societies, Google Ideas, and the Social Sciences Research Council. She has provided consulting services to a variety of institutions, including the United Nations, Google Inc., and the American government.
Below are highlights of the interview conducted between World’s Leaders and Pardis Mahdavi:
Describe who you are as a person, inside and outside of the workplace.
I describe myself as an author, educator, and leader. As the Provost of the University of Montana, I say that I am a knowledge architect, helping to design new ways of knowing and thinking. But I also think of myself as a change agent—someone who brings passionate curiosity to social transformation. I am a proud Iranian-American, and I have written seven books to date.
Describe your background and what did you do before you started/joined the company?
I rose the ranks in academia. I earned my PhD in Medical Anthropology at Columbia University before becoming a tenured Professor at Pomona College, where I later became full professor, department chair, Director of the Pacific Basin Institute, and Dean of Women.Then I transitioned to the University of Denver, where I was Dean and Chief Academic Officer of the Korbel School of International Affairs. From there, I went on to be a Dean at Arizona State University before becoming the Provost of UM.
Tell us about the inception of the company. How did it all start?
UM is the oldest university in Montana and the flagship, public land grant university.
What has made you successful? What do you value?
I think the strongest skills that have helped me as a leader are my ability to be reflexive and be aware of my positionality. I value integrity, equity, justice, and a relentless pursuit of knowledge, excellence, and access.
Which are the major services of the company and how do the company to get ahead in the competition? What value-added services does the company provide?
We are a flagship for the future. Our mission is inclusive prosperity. Our mission is Montana.
What are the most important aspects of a company’s culture? What principles do you believe in and how do you build this culture?
I think it is important that companies hone in on their mission and make sure that all members of the organization are moving toward this goal. I also believe that collaboration is a form of conflict, and if this can be embraced, companies will have a higher chance of success.
What is the significance of innovative ideas in the company?
Innovation in higher education is crucial and also lacking on a national scale. We are innovating not only in thinking about what we learn but also how we learn and how we can meet the needs of all kinds of learners while ensuring access.
Give us your opinion on; do organizations rely heavily on individual heroics or team processes?
I think the ideal would be a combination of both.
What are your responsibilities as the Provost and Executive Vice President of the company? What is the happiest part of your daily routine?
As provost, I oversee all of academic affairs, student affairs, and campus life. I get to work with all of the deans and vice provosts on campus. I love working with students, faculty, and staff at the University of Montana as we move into changing our institution to be more in line with the needs of higher education across the country.
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
Move from an adrenaline-infused fear mindset to a curiosity mindset. Be curious about both the challenges and opportunities your organization faces.