New Interim Dean Plans to Build New Interdisciplinary Programs, and Increase Retention Rate

By: Daria Sokolova

Bonnie Gunzenhauser started at Roosevelt University as an assistant director of the Composition Program in 2003 and became an interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in July, 2013. Although Dean Gunzenhauser inherited a strong foundation that was laid by her predecessor, Lynn Weiner, the mission of the dean stayed the same: to improve the work of the college and make the academic experience better for students and the faculty.

“I think what an administrative role should do is to create the conditions for students and for faculty to succeed and to be their best selves intellectually and in terms of the kinds of lives they want to live,” Gunzenhauser said. “Taking on the dean role is an opportunity to continue that work with somewhat a greater scope than I was able to do as a department chair, even as associate dean.”

Over the course of her academic career at Roosevelt, Gunzenhauser has held numerous positions within the Department of Communications. She said those experiences prepared her for the new role.

“One of the great things about the job is you get to think about a hundred different things every day,” Gunzenhauser said. “Being a department chair prepared me in some ways very well for being dean because a lot of the areas of responsibility are similar, they are just more limited in the department on a broader scale as dean. But I think in some ways being a dean is a job that you can only learn how to do by doing it every day.”

The appointment happened in July after Gunzenhauser spent a number of years teaching courses in literature, literary and cultural theory, and writing at Roosevelt University. She said she felt honored to take on a new position.

“I felt humbled by the confidence that my colleagues and the administration placed in me and I felt excited about the opportunity to continue building on a great work that Lynn had done in the college,” Gunzenhauser said. “I’m extremely hopeful about the direction the university is going and the kinds of things I hope we will be able to do in the college.”

The new dean said the College of Arts and Sciences is functioning well, but it could build on a lot of strengths by finding new approaches to working with faculty, students and making academic programs more effective. According to Gunzenhauser, the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences plays an important role in development of the college.

“I think we have a tremendously talented faculty who are that rare combination of committed, practicing scholars and really dedicated teachers. It’s not so hard to find somebody who is a great scholar or a great teacher, but it is hard to find somebody who is a great scholar and a great teacher. I think faculty in our college are both of those at the same time,” Gunzenhauser explained.

According to the new dean, the College of Arts and Sciences has already made a significant progress in creating new learning opportunities which helped to increase the overall quality of education.

“We have made really great strides in offering students transformational learning opportunities and internship experiences and other ways to get out to the community. The feedback we get from students is that those are almost across the board, invaluable parts of their educational experience. I think the more creative we can be about those opportunities and the more opportunities that we can offer to students, the better off we will be as a college and the better off students who take our courses will be.”

As a part of her new role, Gunzenhauser indirectly oversees the work of 125 faculty members of the College of the Arts and Sciences. She admitted the successful work of the college would be impossible without the dean’s office staff.

“We have two new associate deans who are full-time faculty and administrative positions,” Gunzenhauser said. “One of the two new associate deans is Catherine Campbell who is an associate professor of psychology. Catherine is providing support for faculty who are interested in working with grants and contracts and sponsored research. … Chris Chulos is the other new full-time associate dean. He has a tremendous amount of international experience and he is working with the college on international programming and he is working with undergraduate curriculum.”

Gunzenhauser said those members of the dean’s office who have been working for the College of Arts and Sciences for a number of years, greatly contributed to the development of various aspects of the college.

“It’s a big college and they are for a big staff. I want to give shout outs to all of those people because they are really great,” Gunzenhauser said.

In the next few months, the interim dean wants to interest more Roosevelt students in study abroad programs. According to her, the experience of studying in a different country provides students with invaluable experience they will be able to apply in their professional life.

“I think we are engaging pretty aggressively in looking at some interdisciplinary programs,” Gunzenhauser said. “We have a strong commitment into college to international education so there will be some new study abroad courses on offer for spring 2014. I think more in a pipeline for coming semesters. We really want to find ways to work with students to encourage more and more students to be able to study abroad whether it’s for a year or a semester, or an exchange agreement for a much shorter time as a study abroad experience that’s embedded in a Roosevelt course.”

Gunzenhauser also said she looks closely at what other Roosevelt colleges are doing and tries to bring some of those examples to the College of Arts and Sciences.

“I think the College of Professional Studies, particularly its sustainability studies major is a great example of what an interdisciplinary program can look like,” Gunzenhauser explained. “In terms of thinking about interdisciplinarity, that program is a really good model for what a successful program that draws in a variety of interdisciplinary strengths can look like.”

Despite dealing with so many things at the same time, Gunzenhauser prioritizes some of her tasks. She said the improvement of student retention is one of her primary goals and she is confident about the positive outcome.

“The way you enhance student retention is by doing the things you should do as faculty members and as a college providing interesting classes, working with students, making sure that you are delivering on the promise of students’ learning that we offer. I’m confident that we will be able to increase retention because I’m confident in the work that our faculty is doing,” Gunzenhauser said.

According to the new dean, one of the best ways to tackle this issue effectively is to work with undecided students who don’t have connection to any of the academic departments in the university.

“I’m working with my colleagues across the college and across colleges because we have other two new deans,” Gunzenhauser said. “I’ve talked to both of them about it to explore possibilities for new interdisciplinary programs because, as excellent as our faculty is and even with their considerable discipline expertise, the way the world of thought and the world of work is structured is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary. Encouraging faculty to think across disciplinary lines and to provide references for students that will help them to think across disciplinary lines can only enhance student learning and can only enhance our students’ abilities to succeed once they leave Roosevelt and enter the world of work.”

Although excited about her new role, Gunzenhauser said she will miss teaching

because being around students and watching them learning new things is “energizing in a way that nothing else is.”

Gunzenhauser said there is some similarity between teaching a class of students and administering the work of the largest college at Roosevelt.

“As a teacher, you have to think about how you are affecting the culture of teaching and learning in your classes. As an administrator, you have to think about how you are affecting the culture of teaching and learning on a much broader level,” Gunzenhauser said. “I try not to think about what I will do in the dean’s role as separate from teaching, but there is a particular energy you get from being in a classroom with students that I will miss because that’s my favorite thing about being at Roosevelt: teaching a particular set of students.”

Gunzenhauser has many goals that she will try to accomplish during her limited time as interim dean.

“Right now I’m an interim dean which means that by definition it’s not permanent. My initial appointment is for two years, so I’m thinking about a two-year approach for right now and then the university will have to see and I will have to see what comes next.”

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