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Dayton Engineer

An academic milestone

By News, University of Dayton

During the 2022 fall faculty and staff meetings, President Eric F. Spina highlighted a statistic that might have gone unnoticed by many at the University of Dayton — for the first time in school history, the majority of students have a woman as their dean.

“Think about the significance of that fact,” Spina said. “While we may marvel at this milestone, this is the students’ norm, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t become our's.”

Ali Carr-Chellman (School of Education and Health Sciences), Gül Kremer (School of Engineering), Danielle Poe (College of Arts and Sciences) and Kathy Webb (University Libraries) are serving as deans this year, along with Trevor Collier (School of Business Administration) and Andrew Strauss (School of Law). Kremer and Poe are the newest members of the group, becoming UD deans this year. 

The current makeup of the University’s senior academic leadership didn’t happen by chance. Paul Benson, provost and executive vice president of academic affairs, understood that change at the leadership level required a greater sense of intention and commitment toward developing diverse pools of talented, historically underrepresented candidates.

Benson developed a search committee structure that places a woman in at least one of the two co-chair roles, and each committee included significant representation from women faculty. Position description materials also were written to highlight UD’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and present the University as a place where women leaders can advance and succeed.

“I think that attracted some women candidates we might not otherwise have encountered,” Benson said.

Lisa Borello, executive director of the Women’s Center and research professor of applied sociology, said increasing the number of women-identified academic and staff leaders emerged frequently as a priority during cross-campus discussions when she arrived in 2017. She cited Universitywide initiatives including Hiring for Diversity, Inclusion, and Mission; the President’s Commission on the Status of Women; and The Flyers Plan for Community Excellence — UD’s strategic plan for diversity, equity and inclusion — that helped improve the climate for women on campus by addressing structural barriers that could hamper women’s advancement.

“For people in that early to mid-career phase, it signals that there are opportunities for them here,” Borello said. “They don’t need to look outside the institution to grow.”

Poe, who’s been at UD since 2001, can attest to that career trajectory. She credits past senior women academic leaders at UD, including Pat Johnson, Marilyn Fischer and Deb Bickford, for mentorship that positioned her for future leadership roles. 

Poe spent seven years as associate dean for curriculum and academic outcomes, a role Johnson once held, and served as acting dean of the College from February to May 2022, after Jason Pierce announced his departure. Poe then emerged from a competitive search process to be named permanent dean, and began her tenure June 1. 

“I definitely didn’t aspire to become dean early in my career,” Poe said. “I miss being in the classroom, but I was passionate about the relationships I developed with students as an associate dean. Making an impact on a larger number of students requires infrastructure work that happens at the dean’s office level. I also look around the College today and see so much diversity within leadership — it's really strengthened how we teach in the classroom.”

Benson and Borello also emphasized the importance of creating opportunities for women at the associate dean level and in the provost’s office. In the College, all three associate deans — Michelle Pautz, Denise James and Carissa Krane — are women. Carolyn Phelps is the first woman to serve as associate provost for faculty and administrative affairs, and when Benson created an associate provost position for global and intercultural affairs in 2017, he appointed Amy Anderson to that role.

Although the entire campus community has always been invited to meet with dean search finalists who visit campus, Benson said UD’s reputation for going “the extra mile” to engage candidates with a broad group of students, faculty and staff helps create a positive, lasting impression.

Kremer, who was hired in March and began her term in August, said she appreciated that people she met at UD wanted to understand her core values and learn more about her as a person, not just as a potential dean. She initially declined to apply after a search consultant contacted her about the School of Engineering position but was persuaded when the consultant said her credentials made her exactly the type of candidate UD wanted.

“I always prefer that my work speak for itself and stand on its own in terms of merits and quality,” Kremer said. “But I absolutely recognize the lack of female leadership in my field, and not having role models in academic spaces like engineering can make belonging and performing more challenging. I’m celebrating this milestone because I’m so happy to show this is possible.”

Leading an academic unit wasn’t new to Carr-Chellman, who was dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences at the University of Idaho before coming to UD in 2020. When she visited UD, she too felt it was a place women could succeed as leaders and were doing so already. Like Spina, she appreciates knowing current UD students won’t find it unusual or “out of the ordinary” to see women in significant positions of leadership.

When Carr-Chellman was hired, she and Webb were the only two women serving as deans. And Carr-Chellman does recall a moment during a commencement ceremony in the earliest days of the pandemic in which she was the only woman UD leader in a shortened line because social distancing requirements only allowed a few administrators to attend each ceremony.

Carr-Chellman said she’s impressed with the increase in women leaders at UD in such a short time. 

“It’s an amazing advance in our leadership and represents the intentionality and focus of many leaders, faculty, staff and search committees,” she said. “We’ve made great progress and have an amazing group of deans. I’ve loved working with my dean colleagues, and all of the UD leaders, faculty and staff.” 

University leaders stress there’s still more work to be done to elevate women as leaders across campus. But by developing an infrastructure to hire and promote talented women at all levels, that success builds on itself and puts the University in a much stronger position for the future.  

“I think it's really important for people at the University to see more women in these roles,” said Webb, UD’s longest-serving active dean. “When we started to see more women as vice presidents but not as deans, I think it was a real stress point for many on campus. I know the discussion at our dean meetings now is very different, and better. Having a diversity of opinions around the table makes for more inclusive conversations. It’s a new world and it feels good.”

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