Reflections on a Life-Changing Career at St. John’s

André McKenzie, Ed.D., Vice Provost and Interim Chief Diversity Officer

Few circumstances leave André McKenzie, Ed.D., Vice Provost and Interim Chief Diversity Officer, at a loss for words; being selected to serve as the distinguished speaker and President’s Medal honoree at St. John’s University’s undergraduate Commencement exercises this year was an exception.

Asked recently to describe his immediate reaction to the special honor bestowed on him by St. John’s President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., Dr. McKenzie—affectionately known as “Doc”—paused in silence and reflected. “Wow! I have always been a part of Commencement at St. John’s and have heard many Commencement speakers,” he said. “Now I have the honor, privilege, and opportunity to do the same. In a word, it is humbling.”

Commencement is one of the countless St. John’s moments and experiences that Dr. McKenzie has witnessed up close in his long and distinguished career in higher education. But for the self-effacing college administrator whose influence on generations of St. John’s students is immeasurable, Dr. McKenzie remains nonplussed.

“I am a Chicago kid raised as a Southern Baptist, and my life and career have been fashioned by the Catholic and Vincentian mission of a New York City school: St. John’s. It has been my home. It is my family, and I am blessed to be part of its ongoing evolution.”

A long-serving member of the St. John’s administration, Dr. McKenzie began his St. John’s career in 1986. His multiple talents had caught the eye of a classmate, Sr. Margaret M. Fitzpatrick, S.C., Ed.D. ’00HON, President Emerita, St. Thomas Aquinas College, and Congregational Leader, Sisters of Charity Halifax. Now a member of the Board of Trustees at St. John’s, at that time, Sr. Margaret was a St. John’s administrator enrolled in the doctoral program at Columbia University with Dr. McKenzie.

“We studied together at Columbia, and right away I recognized André as a brilliant, engaging personality and a team player,” shared Sr. Margaret. “When we graduated, I asked him what he was going to do and he said, ‘I guess I’ll go back to Illinois and look for a job,’ and I replied, ‘You love New York City, you belong here in the city—so the only place you are going back to is to St. John’s to work with me.’”

Sr. Margaret describes Dr. McKenzie as someone who personifies what it means to be a Vincentian who is shaped by the charism and who works daily to actualize the mission. “Being at a faith-based school is natural for him as he personally connects with so many students. Every single student matters to André, and so many owe him a personal debt of gratitude for his assistance and mentorship over the years. He knows that higher education is a doorway to a better future; sometimes he helps push students through that doorway, because he knows if he did it, they will as well.”

Dr. McKenzie began his career as Assistant Dean of Student Development. One of the first undergraduates that he came to know was Stacie NC Grant, Founder of Destiny Designers University® and the Faithpreneur® movement. Dr. Grant initiated in Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., at St. John’s and now, 30 years later, is a candidate for the organization’s international presidency.

“There are no words adequate to express what he means to students, especially students of color at St. John’s,” she said. “His commitment to our success and dedication to real student development is legendary. Dr. McKenzie always gives of his personal time and works to ensure that students stay on a steady course to graduation. He encourages them to identify opportunities and not shy away from challenges. He instills in students the importance of paying it forward—and we do so, inspired by his generous example.”

As years passed, Dr. McKenzie advanced to Director of the Office of Opportunity Programs, and then Assistant Vice President, Division of Special and Opportunity Programs. In that role, he directed the Higher Education Opportunity Program and the Science and Technology Entry Program.

He had a brief stint as Acting Dean of St. Vincent’s College (now The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies), where he managed the University’s largest undergraduate academic unit, serving more than 4,000 students pursuing both associate and bachelor’s degree programs.

After serving as a dean, he accepted the position of Associate Vice President, Student Advising and Retention. In 1999, he was appointed Vice President, Division of Academic Support Services, a role he held until 2016 when he was appointed Vice Provost for Academic Support Services. Dr. McKenzie has served as Interim Chief Diversity Officer since July 2021.

Inclusion and working to bring people together is a skill set that Dr. McKenzie possessed long before it became part of his formal job description. As Interim Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. McKenzie provides vision, leadership, management, direction, and strategic planning for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives that support the University’s mission and long-term strategic goals. He oversees the Office of Equity and Inclusion, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Inclusivity Resource Center, the Academic Center for Equity and Inclusion, and the Respond and Partner to Engage our Community Team (RESPECT), the University’s antibias response team.

Mentorship and cultivating the next generation of academic leaders—particularly young, diverse, and promising individuals—is a personal passion of Dr. McKenzie. One such leader is Sharod L. Tomlinson, Ed.D., Associate Dean for Student Success and Engagement, who describes Dr. McKenzie as “a welcoming person who always makes himself available to me as a professional, as a colleague, and as a friend.”

Thirty-six years ago, Dr. McKenzie arrived at the Queens, NY, campus for his first day of work on August 1, just as new student orientation was underway. He recalls incoming students asking him for directions to certain buildings. Not knowing his way around the expansive campus, Dr. McKenzie replied, “I don’t know the way, but I’ll walk with you, and we will get there together.” Almost four decades later, for “Doc” McKenzie and the students he serves, that journey continues.