Roberta J. Cordano is the 11th president of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. She is the fourth deaf and the first female president since Gallaudet’s founding in 1864. In office since January 1, 2016, Cordano has brought new energy and transformational leadership to the role. The University has embarked on a four-year strategic plan with six priorities and a clearly defined set of performance indicators. She is also leading the community in rethinking how it prepares students for the 21st century. Cordano has prioritized innovation and entrepreneurship through the new Gallaudet Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute.
Cordano brings experience and skills built in both traditional and non-traditional settings. She was previously vice president of programs for the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation in Saint Paul, MN, where she oversaw community-based programs that served nearly 9,500 people in the areas of early childhood, community mental health, family supportive housing, aging and caregiver services, school reform, and food access. Her accomplishments include managing and sustaining programs in a highly volatile revenue environment, providing community leadership, fostering innovation, strengthening and supporting diversity within the workforce, and structuring services for optimal alignment and collaboration.
Cordano has held several leadership roles in the health care industry. She served as interim president for the Center of Healthcare Innovation at Allina Hospital Clinics (now known as Allina Health) and as president of the Park Nicollet Institute and vice president of Park Nicollet Health Services. In these roles, she led initiatives focusing on organizational change, innovation, community-based health, patient education, and research.
Prior to her work in health care, Cordano held the position of assistant dean for the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, where she also served as the director of disability services in the Office of Multicultural and Academic Affairs. She began her career as an assistant attorney general for the State of Minnesota, where she actively represented the people of Minnesota, as well as other states, through numerous multistate cases. She served as an expert on the Americans with Disabilities Act and other disability-related laws. She was a frequent presenter on these issues and helped lead a statewide training effort for all state agencies. During this time, she also served on the Minnesota Supreme Court Advisory Committee for Court Interpreters and was a key author of the statewide rule that ensures access for all non-English language users in the courts.
Cordano is a founding member of Metro Deaf School, a pre-K through eighth grade bilingual-bicultural charter school for deaf and hard of hearing children in Saint Paul, and a founding board member of Minnesota North Star Academy, a bilingual-bicultural charter high school for deaf and hard of hearing students. Her 16 years of service to these schools culminated in their merger, with a significant building expansion. In 2003, Cordano, along with Vice President Walter F. Mondale and former Minnesota Governor Elmer A. Anderson, received the inaugural Public Leadership Award from the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
In 2005, she received the Access Award from the Minnesota State Council on Disability. In June 2018, she received the “Lead On!” Award, named in honor of Justin W. Dart, Jr., the grandfather of the Americans with Disabilities Act, at the annual Access Living gala in Chicago, IL.