By Phillip Jordan
Bernadette (Gonzaque) Robert ’77 was torn. It was 1994 and the Mount Saint Mary’s alumna was pondering her next career move. On the table: a marketing director position with Frontier Airlines, a staff position in a Los Angeles mayor’s office, or a return to her alma mater, where she’d previously worked in Admissions and College Relations.
She talked over the pros and cons of each job with a friend. After listening to Robert speak, the friend told her: “Bernie, you could do those other jobs. But when you talk about the Mount, there’s a sparkle in your eyes.”
“Well, I think she was right,” Robert says with a laugh. “I came back. And I never left.”
For more than 35 years now, Robert has filled a variety of leadership roles on campus. She’s especially excited about her current role as associate vice president for the University’s Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which opened in 2016. “This office,” she says, “is a testament to the University’s commitment to the needs and advancement of our students and to our ability to effectively engage all our local and global communities.”
As if that role wasn’t enough, Robert also serves as the Mount’s Title IX coordinator and university ombudsperson. And faculty, staff and students know that Robert’s cell phone is on 24 hours a day — a gift to the Mount community from one of its most trusted listeners, advisers and advocates.
Now, Robert has given another gift to the Mount, one that will extend far into the future. A longtime donor, Robert recently added the University to her estate plans. The decision, she says, was an easy one.
“Our students are our gift to the world,” she says. “And the only way we can ensure the world continues to receive those gifts is by contributing to the advancement of our students.”
Carrying forward a legacy
As with most alums, Robert’s bond with her alma mater is rooted in the formative experiences she enjoyed as a student. Not to mention that her children are graduates of the University, too — Jonathan from what was then the Physical Therapy Assistant program and Elise from the MFA in Film, Television and Photography.
Still, Robert says she tries to give with the future more in mind than the past.
“As an alum, you often anchor yourself to those memories from that moment in time when you were a student,” she says. “So, often, that’s what you’re giving to. And that makes sense.
“But for me, I’ve had to say to myself, ‘I’ve given to what I remember, to my heritage here. But I’m also giving to what the Mount requires right now. And I’m giving to what it will need to be in the future to remain relevant for new generations of students. Because that’s what the (Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet) taught me — to always find the need and to be willing to respond to the needs of the times.”
The sisters have long served as role models for Robert. Now, they inspire her giving, too. During much of her time at the Mount, Robert could look around campus and see sisters everywhere. They’ve been her professors, her mentors, her friends. Today, few sisters remain on the Mount’s campuses. The mantle is being passed.
“Everything the sisters built here, they’re leaving that legacy in our care now,” Robert says. “It’s on us to carry their spirit forward and ensure that it reaches new generations. If we do that, then our students can live that legacy, too.”
Robert thinks a lot about what the Mount may look like going forward. And about what students’ needs may be a generation from now. Her planned gift is a vote of confidence in the University’s ability to keep meeting those needs.
“I believe in where we are and where we’re going,” Robert says.“My hope is that we always remain relevant for the needs of the times. That we never become complacent. And that we always keep working toward a just society. That we remember what makes us who we are but we also see the world with fresh eyes for what we need to be. And I hope that we alums will all think: ’It starts with me.’”
Student, alum, leader: Robert’s career at the Mount
Robert once thought she might enter public service. Instead, she chose Mount Saint Mary’s — and found a way to serve the public just the same. For more than 35 years, the Mount has been Robert’s fulcrum for community service, both to the Mount and to Los Angeles at large.
“My radar is always tracking opportunities,” Robert says. “Any advisory board I’m on or community group I’m with, I’m always thinking, ‘How can the Mount benefit? And how can we support this organization in return?’”
That thinking has led to countless professional development opportunities, mentor-mentee relationships and volunteering options for generations of Mount students — and partnerships, program support and financial contributions for the University.
“The journey’s been a gift,” Robert says. “As a student, the Mount gave me a foundation that was so important in building up my professional confidence. As an adult, to be part of the good work of the University is a privilege. To see a student when the light bulb comes on, or to see students when they find their voice — that’s what’s special to me.”
- First student to receive the Estelle Doheny Award on the Doheny Campus
- In the first cohort of leadership scholars in the Mount’s Women’s Leadership Program
Leadership roles on campus
- Associate vice president, Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
- Title IX coordinator
- University ombudsperson
- Co-chair, 2019-2024 MSMU Strategic Plan
- Committee member, CSJ Institute
- Past director, College Relations and Admissions
- Past assistant dean, Associate in Arts program
- Past assistant vice president, Student Affairs and Community Engagement
- Founder and past director, Student Ambassadors
Leadership roles off campus
- Board member, L.A. Archdiocese Youth Employment Program
- Board member, Notre Dame Academy Schools of Los Angeles
- Board member, Los Angeles Police Department’s Professional Advisory Council
- Co-founder, Southern California Title IX Coordinators’ Consortium
- Co-founder, Friends Circle for Alexandria House
- Past member, Violence Against Women Coalition, Los Angeles College Consortium
- Past member, L.A. Archdiocese Commission for Justice and Peace
- Past member, Housing Authority of Los Angeles
- Past member, Children, Youth and Family Collaborative Foster Care Agency
- Past member, Rebuild Los Angeles