Yesterday I had lunch in the Student Center for the first time. I went to Panda Express, and my fortune cookie message read: “the riches of others makes you more valuable.” In a way, that’s a nice shorthand for describing the job of a Dean, as one of our major tasks is to make sure that the departments in our care are well supported and thriving. Money is probably the first thing that comes to mind when one hears the word “support,” and that is a necessary item, but another important aspect is the ability of department chairs to innovate, to try new things without unnecessary interference from above. I’ve started monthly one-on-one meeting with the chairs, and stress that the purpose of those meetings is not for me to give direction (or, worse, micromanage their decisions), it’s for me to become informed about issues and to help solve problems. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate department successes, and discuss ways in which we can maintain positive momentum. Monthly meetings with 12 department chairs will take a lot of time, but they are well worth the effort. In the end, successful departments lead to a successful college!

This morning I got breakfast at a Whole Foods, and my bill came to $8.02. At first I was annoyed: why can’t they calculate prices and taxes that land the total on the dollar? My second thought was that maybe generating a ton of change is intentional, so that it’s easier to give homeless folks a little something as we walk out of stores. My third thought was about the wages paid to Whole Foods workers. [Don’t ask about how and why my mind skipped from thought to disparate thought!] Earlier in the week I learned about how SJSU sociology students helped raise the minimum wage in San José. That’s the type of story that makes me proud to be in my new post. I’m looking forward to learning about additional examples of the powerful use of the social sciences here in the San Francisco Bay Area!

San José State U’s brand is “Powering Silicon Valley,” which emphasizes the STEM fields — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. One of my tasks as Dean of the College of Social Sciences will be to advocate the importance of the social sciences. At my first meeting with department chairs we started to discuss some strategies in which the social sciences complement STEM, and other strategies that focus on questioning STEM’s place at the center of the equation. A page on the “Latin Correspondent” website captures many of the central ideas; perhaps I should ask the chairs to read it before our next meeting? Any additional ideas and/or resources I should share?

On July 6, 2015 I became Dean of the College of Social Sciences at San José State University. I’m writing this post at the end of my whirlwind first week. I expected many changes, such as having to learn a slew of new acronyms, and struggling to remember new names. Other items were unexpected, such as discovering that SJSU was featured in the San Jose Rose, White, and Blue parade [I learned this towards the end when the SJSU contingent came through, following a banner that announced that SJSU was the theme], and seeing very few African Americans on campus. A further note about diversity: although I love the wonderful mosaic of people here in San José — at the parade I discovered that a troup of Sikh Scouts exists here — it will take some getting used to having so few African Americans in the area; during an hour at today’s San Jose Obon festival, for example, in a crowd of hundreds I saw only three other African Americans. I’ll have to be on the lookout for larger pockets elsewhere…

On July 6 I will become the new Dean of the College of Social Sciences at San José State University. While July 2015 is the start of my third year as a Dean, it will be my first year at SJSU, so I’ll re-start regular “Dispatches From a New Dean” entries!

Today was my one year anniversary as a new dean. It’s also my 100th post to this blog. I wish that I could say that this coincidence was part of a grand design…

My original plan was to just write the blog for the first year as a new dean, but I’ll keep going with occasional entries. Thanks for the comments on posts in the first year!

Summer is orientation season in higher education, as new students attend one-day or two-day sessions to prepare them for enrolling in classes in late August or early September. I was asked to be the presenter for an event called “Your Academic Success,” and delivered it this morning. Usually the presenter goes through a 20-minute PowerPoint that’s jam-packed with information about what it takes to do well as a college student. I figured that students (and a few parents who also attended) would not remember all of that stuff, so I discussed three broad-based elements:

  1. Study Smarter. According to College Rules! How to Study, Survive, and Succeed in College, “studying smarter means knowing and using the most appropriate strategies for each particular learning situation. It means having a pocketful of approaches that you can use depending on the course you are taking, the kind of test you are studying for, and how you learn best. Studying smarter means being flexible.” Indeed!
  2. Effective Time Management. A huge adjustment for students is the move from heavily scheduled lives with lots of reminders from parents and teachers to an environment when they have a lot of freedom and increased personal responsibility with few external checks. I shared my time management system, “the three Ts”: triage (prioritize potential tasks and requests into “do now,” “ignore,” or “do later”), track (have a to-do list to manage the triaged tasks; I use Remember the Milk), and trace (have established pathways that you do automatically, like checking email right after breakfast).
  3. Follow Your Passions. I encouraged students to take classes just because they sound interesting, and to be open to choosing majors even if they don’t have explicit job connections. For the parents in the room I read some examples of careers recent alumni landed with social science majors, stressing that everyone does not have to major in a business or STEM field. One of the parents thanked me for this afterwards, noting that she and her husband both have graduate degrees in History and have well-paying jobs thanks to their well-rounded liberal arts backgrounds.

If you know a new college student please pass this post on to them, and also pass on my best wishes for a great first year!

I had an interesting experience recently on a flight from Atlanta to Milwaukee. I was in First Class, and my seat-mate was a young African American male (in his 20s). “This is so awesome,” he said to the flight attendant as he came down the aisle. “It’s my first time in First Class!” When he sat next to me he said, “we get blankets? And pillows too?” “We also receive free bottles of water,” I informed him. “Awesome!” At the end of the flight he told the flight attendants that he enjoyed his first time in First Class. It was nice to see someone so excited about a new experience!

Before becoming a dean I loved attending graduation ceremonies. As noted in a previous post, my enjoyment has been tempered by discomfort with a new task: reading students’ names, as I worry about mispronouncing some of them. I just read about a new service that might help: NameCoach, a web page students can use to record their names with correct pronunciation. I’m going to have to get UW-Parkside connected to this service!

This time last year I was preparing to move from Minneapolis to Kenosha for the July 1 start date as a new dean. On June 10, 2013 I posted thoughts on returning to the residence halls, noting that I planned to live in an apartment complex next to a traditional residence hall after my plan to actually be in the dormitory was vetoed by my wife. Last week I had an experience that confirmed that her decision was the right call, as I stayed in a dormitory for four nights while attending the International Writing Across the Curriculum Conference in Minneapolis: passing by two women’s bathrooms to get to the men’s room was not fun, especially in the middle of the night. Oh well, at least I was able to save $300 by not staying in the hotel, and that could be used by others for travel.