June 18, 2019

For more than four decades, Maria Hesse has been a prominent figure in the field of education. So much so that Arizona Women in Higher Education, an organization where she served on the board for 10 years, named her the 2019 Woman of the Year.

The AWHE mission is to support women and improve the climate and professional environment for women in higher education in the state of Arizona.

“I have really enjoyed serving on the board for Arizona Women in Higher Education, an organization whose very purpose is to promote personal and professional growth,” Hesse said.

The honor is bestowed on women who exemplify leadership, innovation and service and those who help women advance into senior-level leadership roles through nominations and developing their leadership abilities.

With Hesse retiring this month, the award also marks the end of a decade of accolades, accomplishments and contributions to the ASU community and the entire state of Arizona. As ASU’s vice provost for academic partnerships, she has created a student-centered “culture of transfer” by nurturing relationships with other institutions and developing strategies designed to increase the number of students who complete associate and bachelor's degrees.

“I have spent the last 10 years at ASU working hard on issues of transfer student success. It has been a labor of love for both community colleges and for my alma mater, Arizona State University,” she said.

A group of women pose for a photo

(From left) Teresa Leyba-Ruiz, Glendale Community College president; Maria Harper-Marinick, Maricopa Community College District chancellor; Christina Haines, interim president of Scottsdale Community College; and Maria Hesse, ASU vice provost at the 2019 Arizona Women in Higher Education Woman of the Year event.

Hesse spent 25 years serving in multiple capacities within the Maricopa Community Colleges. She served as the president and chief executive officer at Chandler-Gilbert Community College for seven years before joining ASU, a natural transition into her current position focused on increasing the opportunities for community college students to pursue four-year degrees. Prior to her years in the Maricopa Community Colleges, she served as a local high school teacher and principal.

“I’ve been in education for nearly 45 years now and I think back fondly on all of these experiences,” Hesse said. “There were many wonderful people with whom I worked and from whom I learned — people that were in my institutions, colleagues from other institutions, community leaders, students — you just never know when you are going to run into someone who significantly changes your life for the better.”

Among her many contributions to higher education, her biggest priority was closing the education gap by building pathways that help community college students to have a seamless transition to ASU, tailored to each student’s academic goals.

“I have been fortunate to have fantastic staff and I thank them for their contributions,” she said. “We have nearly tripled transfer enrollment, such that last year ASU welcomed 18,864 new transfer students into the university. And we have greatly improved transfer student success, while reducing time and costs towards baccalaureate degree completion.”

Her other contributions are not so obvious, but nonetheless impactful. Her extensive knowledge about community colleges — founding one herself for the Maricopa Community Colleges — makes her a great resource to surrounding communities.

A recent project was with the San Carlos Apache Tribe, collaboratively working with tribal leadership and leveraging her expertise to open Arizona’s third tribal college – San Carlos Apache College. 

The successful collaboration between Hesse; Terry Rambler, the chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe; and Jacob Moore, the university’s assistant vice president for tribal relations brought forth not only the college, but educational resources — academic counseling, college-readiness programming and transfer opportunities — that academically supports students to be successful.

Hesse is not completely walking away from the community she built on ASU’s campus. After retirement, she will continue to teach in the higher education program at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College where future teachers and administrators can take note from her successful playbook.