The College of Arts and Letters (CAL) is in the process of selecting a new dean, and Debra Faszer-McMahon introduced herself to students as the first candidate early Tuesday morning.
Faszer-McMahon is currently the Dean of the School of Humanities and a Spanish professor at Seton Hill University, which is a small liberal arts school located in western Pennsylvania. Her academic background includes a Ph.D. in Spanish Literature from the University of California Irvine, along with three master’s degrees in Curriculum and Instruction, English Literature and the Teaching of Languages. She also clarified that her administrative background spans over 10 years.
During Tuesday’s forum, Faszer-McMahon addressed the various appeals of coming to NAU. For example, she explained how the university has highly developed resources, but also maintains a meaningful interpersonal nature.
“I love how [the university's website] talks about NAU having the reach of a major research university with a small liberal arts feel," Faszer-McMahon said. "That really resonated with me.”
Another repeat topic during Faszer-McMahon’s student forum was diversity and inclusivity. According to the Office of Institutional Research and Analysis, 2,204 students were enrolled in CAL in fall 2019. Of this student population, 447 were Hispanic or Latino, 270 were non-residents or international and an additional 117 were multiracial. These figures demonstrate how diversity is a significant characteristic within CAL, which is another appealing factor within Faszer-McMahon's desired position.
“I’m really excited to collaborate with NAU in working to become a Hispanic-serving institution,” Faszer-McMahon said.
Upon discussing diversity, the conversation shifted toward recruitment and retention. Three graduate teaching assistants within CAL’s Applied Linguistics Ph.D. program presented options for helping undergraduate students. Faszer-McMahon, with her numerous years of teaching experience, agreed that peer-mentoring and coaching programs are beneficial ways to assist the student population. Overall, the consensus was that helping students matters.
While students often focus on coursework, they can also engage in thoughtful and groundbreaking research. Faszer-McMahon considered the importance of advancing NAU’s identity as a research institution.
“[I see] the need for NAU to increase its research profile. In general, the more we can have high-quality nationally and globally recognized research, the better it is for NAU,” Faszer-McMahon said.
Toward the end of Tuesday’s forum, Faszer-McMahon admitted that transitioning to a school of NAU’s size and influence — with the considerable amount of students, faculty, coursework and research — will certainly be an adjustment. However, the prospective dean also explained her plan for moving between a small liberal arts university and a large state institution.
Firstly, Faszer-McMahon said she will use her former colleagues as a source of guidance and advice. Within the academic realm, Faszer-McMahon is connected to numerous faculty and administrators employed within large public universities, and she is willing to utilize their help. Additionally, the first candidate for Dean of CAL explained how she plans to work within a supportive team at NAU.
“I have to be humble about that transition and realize that I will need to rely on partners here who have the institutional longevity and have the deep knowledge and insight about the culture at NAU,” Faszer-McMahon said. “I prefer to work in a team, and I have done that well throughout my administrative career.”
Similarly, acclimating to Flagstaff will take time and effort. As a candidate for an influential position on campus, Faszer-McMahon recognizes the importance of connecting NAU to the surrounding community. She explained that in order to truly succeed, the university needs Flagstaff to flourish as well.
“At the end of the day, the future of our institution and the health of our community are tied together, deeply,” Faszer-McMahon said.
Christopher Boyer, the second candidate for Dean of CAL, will be on campus later this week, shortly after Faszer-McMahon’s departure. Furthermore, two additional applicants will be in Flagstaff next week as the search continues.