Earlier this month, I celebrated an important milestone. I marked my one-year anniversary serving our alumni, students, faculty and staff as dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.
I have never had a more demanding and rewarding job. The College is broad and dynamic, with more than 50 departments, programs and centers, as well as the School of the Arts, School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures, and School of Public Affairs & Administration. I work with more than 1,000 talented faculty and staff who are incredibly dedicated to the success of our 14,000-plus undergraduate and graduate students. There are opportunities and challenges at every turn.
My first year has been filled with new developments and initiatives. I am grateful to the many individuals whose expertise, skills and energy are making it possible for us to build a thriving College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. I’m excited to share with you some highlights.
- One-on-one student mentoring: One of the overarching priorities I’ve set for the College is to increase student success by emphasizing a student-focused approach. Working closely with our Student Academic Services office, we have seen tremendous results in one of our early initiatives directed at that priority. We are in our third semester of the College’s faculty-student mentoring program, which pairs undergraduate students who are struggling academically with faculty mentors to coach them one-on-one. Statistically, we have seen an average improvement in term GPA of 0.75 points. We’ve also gained a better understanding of how many factors influence student success and how to better help our students maintain balance. As a result, we’ve also offered a range of mentoring workshops to support faculty in being the most effective mentor possible and to arm them with a better understanding of issues affecting students from finances to mental health. With many of our students having to work to afford college and being under increasing levels of pressure, these have proven to be valuable workshops for mentors in their work with our students.
- Winter Session: In years past, winter break has meant time for travel and catching up with friends and family for our students. This year, it also meant an opportunity for students to catch up on credit hours or even jump ahead! We offered our first-ever Winter Session between fall and spring semesters. It consisted of more than a dozen online courses condensed into four weeks. Much like summer school, winter courses give students an opportunity to focus on just one or two classes at once. Something we’ve heard from students and faculty is that the traditional model of several 16-week courses each semester isn’t the ideal educational model for some students. As a result, the College is supporting more opportunities to offer courses in shorter sessions and online. Importantly, this format provides the opportunity for a more intense focus in a shorter period, while holding the rigor of the course constant. The offerings proved quite popular, with nearly every seat filled. We plan to offer this again.
- Diversity, equity and inclusion: This academic year marked our first with a proactive and strategic plan in place for diversity, equity and inclusion in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, as well as an associate dean in charge of the plan’s development and implementation. Since she started the position of associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion on July 1, Jennifer Hamer has led the College in making major strides in making KU the most welcoming and supportive environment for all of our students. This semester we hosted our first Student Summit on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and we launched a lunch series, CLAS Time, offering free lunch and informal conversation among students and faculty to build stronger community ties. She has also established a number of connections and partnerships across campus to better develop resources for faculty, staff and students in areas such as wellness and career progression. A more detailed overview can be found here: http://dei.college.ku.edu/strategic-plan.
- State of the College: Last fall, I hosted the first State of the College. It’s highly important to me that the goals and priorities of the College are understood and shared across our faculty and staff. The State of the College allowed me the opportunity to highlight major accomplishments and present a vision going forward for the College. More than half of the time was reserved for Q&A, to allow ample opportunity for faculty and staff to share their input and feedback. I was thrilled to see how much our faculty and staff are invested in the advancement of the College.
- Strategic plan: Building upon the State of the College, we are engaged in a strategic planning process across the College this year. Sometimes strategic plans are top down and miss the opportunity to pull a community together with a shared vision. I am confident that we have laid out an approach that will be transparent and will produce a strategic plan that is clear and impactful. We are spreading the process out throughout this academic year, sharing our progress often, and seeking faculty and staff input regularly to ensure the final plan resonates across the College. We will share with you our final plan by the start of next academic year.
- Research excellence: Another overarching priority I have set for the College is to enhance our research infrastructure and impact. We have outstanding scholars among our faculty and students who make major contributions in areas from antibiotic resistance to human trafficking and much more. Two big steps we’ve taken to support research and shine a brighter spotlight on our discoveries are to establish a Research Excellence Fund and to appoint our first director of research development and engagement. I am grateful to the alumni and friends who have already helped us raise $250,000 for our research fund.
- Building our future: We are in the midst of a building boom on campus. Three projects are especially exciting to us in the College: construction of the Earth, Energy & Environment Center (EEEC) and the Integrated Science Building (ISB), and renovation of Summerfield Hall. Sitting next to Lindley Hall, the EEEC is a multidisciplinary facility that will bring together faculty, students and researchers from geology and engineering doing energy and environment research. You can watch construction live online. The ISB will comprise 280,000 square feet of space for teaching and learning, and for interdisciplinary research in chemistry, medicinal chemistry, physics, molecular biosciences and related fields. You can also view construction of that project online. Finally, in Summerfield Hall, we are building a new home for our Department of Film & Media Studies. The renovation project includes a brand-new soundstage and will bring faculty and students closer to main campus than in their current home at Oldfather Studios on 9th Street.
- Graduate student professional development: Several developments this year are making a big difference in the resources we can offer to graduate students in the liberal arts and sciences. We have added a graduate professional development coordinator position, which is focused on identifying, developing and sharing resources with our graduate students. Additionally, we were awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop transformations in doctoral education that will redefine the humanities Ph.D. for the 21st century. Our associate dean for the humanities and the director of the College Office of Graduate Affairs are among the principal investigators on the grant. The need for doctoral education reform is a common refrain in pages of the higher education press and in recent book-length treatments on the topic. While KU humanities doctoral recipients enjoy overall higher rates of job market success than the national average — 77% of those who reported indicated that they have positions in the higher education sector — recent national research raises serious doubts about the future prospects of faculty employment. We have also added five Dean’s Doctoral Fellowships. These assistantships provide support to graduate students to develop their own independent lines of scholarship and creative works, as well as encourage them to seek prestigious external fellowships from federal agencies and philanthropic foundations.
I am energized by the work we have accomplished and I look forward to continuing to share our progress with you. In all things, I am mindful of the legacy built over generations that we must uphold – one that has been shaped by our alumni, faculty past and present, and previous deans. Please feel free to reach out and stay in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or my personal cell, 240-535-0467.
Dean, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences