Post by Odeviz Soto, Director of Admissions
Editor’s Note: This summer, we’re welcoming a new member to the Admissions team: Odeviz Soto, our new Director of Admissions. In this article, we asked him a few questions so that you all could get to know him!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you want the HDS community & prospective students to know about you?
Thank you for starting with this question. Here is a little bit of my background. I was born in Cuba and immigrated to Hialeah, Florida at the age of ten. As a first-generation student and member of a family with low socioeconomic status, I was in for a shock when I enrolled at Harvard College, but I absolutely loved my time there. I studied colonial and postcolonial history and was drawn to see how religion was used either as a tool of oppression or liberation in different contexts. After teaching for one year at a boarding school in Salzburg, Austria, I returned to Cambridge for my Master of Divinity degree at Harvard Divinity School. It was at HDS that I learned that anything can be done in a ministerial manner and that I wanted higher education administration to be my ministry. Therefore, I am thrilled to return and once again be a member of such a wonderful community.
You’re an HDS graduate! What have you been up to since graduating from HDS?
Yes, I am a proud HDS graduate, indeed. My first job after graduation was serving as an Admission Officer in this very same office, which was a wonderful way to start my higher education career. After that role, I became the Assistant Director of Summer Planning and Funding at Harvard College for a couple of years and then transitioned back to admissions proper as the Associate Director of Admissions at Harvard Law School for a couple years before returning to HDS. Through all these roles, I also had the opportunity to work in residential life for 8 straight years in one of Harvard College’s residential houses. However, most importantly, since graduation, my wife and I had 3 boys to keep us learning, humbled, and in awe.
What was your favorite part of attending HDS?
I have two favorite things. The first is that I learned how to think theologically and to see things from multiple religious and spiritual viewpoints. The second was without a doubt the people I met—the faculty, the staff, alumni, the various thinkers across the centuries, and my peers.
Who’s your favorite scholar of religion and why?
I would be hard-pressed to pick just one scholar of religion. However, I know exactly which two books I read during my time at HDS which really influenced me and made me admire their authors. Those are Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath and Josef Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture. The latter is the only book I have literally started rereading the moment I finished. What Heschel and Pieper reminded me was the importance of resting and reflecting, which then reinvigorates me to be the person I want be.
What’s your admissions philosophy? Why is this work important?
My admissions philosophy is quite simple—educate prospective applicants and create equitable, inviting venues through which they can see themselves belonging to and enriching Harvard Divinity School. Admissions work at Harvard Divinity School matters because we are recruiting and admitting the moral, ethical, religious, and spiritual leaders of today and the future. HDS aims to develop leaders who engage across differences, find commonalities, and build bridges for a world that is thirsty for peace and harmony. Therefore, what we do here in our HDS Admissions Office can literally change the world.
What advice do you have for prospective students?
Apply, take your shot, make the application process a moment of reflection to get to know yourself better and an opportunity to get closer to people who have supported you (mentors, faculty, family, friends, etc.), and hope for the best. If you don’t get in, consider reapplying—we are not going anywhere. Besides, we would be intrigued to see why you would continue knocking on our door.
What are you most looking forward to as you begin your tenure as Director of Admissions at HDS?
I am excited to meet the prospective applicants that are going to be applying to us in the near future amidst a monumental confluence of a pandemic, a head-on collision with all the evil -isms staring us in the face, and a historic monumental election. I am convinced that many are waking up to the fact that they want to give their time and energy to change the status quo and perhaps, even do something heroic with their lives. HDS could be that training ground for many. All that to say, I am eager to meet these applicants through their conversations with us and in the stories they will tell us through their Statements of Purpose.