A Profile of Maria O’Callaghan-Cassidy
Learner, Leader, Mentor
Senior Associate Vice President, Campus Operations
University of Richmond
Maria O’Callaghan-Cassidy has worn many hats throughout her career as a learner, leader, mentor, doer, and athlete.
Her career path was not linear. “It was a winding road with several detours,” she said. She worked in retail, gaming, and casinos. She owned a business and helped develop a sports start-up. She worked in distribution. Her journey provided her with unique opportunities, including prepping and coordinating for presidential and other world leader visits and building a facility in China.
Then, like many others in the field, facilities and operations management found her, and she added a hard hat to her wardrobe. She relocated to Richmond, Virginia, from the Philadelphia/South Jersey region to serve as the University of Richmond's senior associate vice president of Campus Operations. She worked at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania for more than two decades as executive director of design & construction in Facilities Planning and Operations.
The leadership of the UR campus operations team is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year operation that includes facilities, maintenance, projects, dining, and events, all of which are staffed by a committed, talented, and diverse group of more than 400 people. The UR campus was voted the #1 most beautiful campus by the Princeton Review for 2024.
“I have been fortunate to work with and for remarkable organizations, and the University of Richmond is the most exceptional. I was drawn to UR because it has a culture of recognizing people as their greatest asset,” Maria said. “My focus has been cultivating strong professional relationships, mentoring, and developing resilient teams. It always comes down to people, and I have had the honor of being associated with, supported, and challenged by some amazing individuals in my career.”
The facilities management environment is both rejuvenating and challenging. “I always appreciate a good challenge, so I was a perfect fit,” Maria said. “It’s never boring.”
The field continues to evolve, and she cited the proliferation of technology that provides volumes of data to analyze and guide practices. “Our mission will be to develop standards around how best to use this information,” she said. “We are the architects of the future — and how we plan space, infrastructure, accessibility, and flexibility will affect the productivity and longevity of organizations.”
Facilities management leaders have a responsibility to remain engaged and educated. Green processes such as minimizing energy and water use, material waste, and carbon emissions are focus areas. “We can reduce negative impacts on the environment that will affect generations to come,” she said.
As others have challenged and supported her, Maria pays it forward. She said the facilities management field lacks female mentorship. And with the percentage of women in executive FM level roles under 8%, she said there is an immediate need for “accessible, structured female mentorship and networking.”
“I recognize the challenges of up-and-coming female leaders in the field. I want them to know that they belong and deserve a seat at the table,” said Maria, who, after decades of award-winning success, periodically finds her expertise questioned. “I never let this take away my self-worth and motivation. It inspires me to excel further.”
She wants more female voices to be heard and encourages women to be bold and obsessed with learning and growing. “Welcome all feedback — the good, the bad and the ugly — keep the best and discard the rest,” she said.
“Perfection does not exist, so give yourself grace,” she adds. “There will always be critics; you don’t need to be your biggest one.”
Maria has already suggested other Women in Facilities to profile and provided a great reading list of books that encompass history, crime-solving, and architecture, including Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.
Contributing to her profession is also important to Maria, the current chair of Women in Facilities Management and vice chair of the IFMA Academic Facilities Council. She serves on the Board of Directors for the IFMA RVA Chapter. She is also a member of Chief, a private network that connects and supports the most powerful women executives to strengthen their leadership, magnify their influence, and pave the way to bring others with them.
She holds a Master of Science in Organization Dynamics from the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Arts from Rowan University. She is an IFMA certified Facility Manager and Sustainable Facility Professional.
Maria also knows the importance of self-care. She took up boxing during COVID and, in the past year, admits to having developed a “healthy” obsession with Orangetheory, which uses heart-rate-based interval training. She enjoys watching all Philadelphia sports and cheering for her son at his sporting events. Traveling, touring wineries, visiting new restaurants, and golfing also top her list of favorite activities. At the pinnacle is sitting on the beach, listening to the ocean.