Watson Chronicle



Message from Watson College Dean Van Dempsey

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Dean Van Dempsey

First impressions matter.

Although a newcomer to the Watson College of Education, for me those impressions about this place began to form years ago when, as an education faculty member in the 1990s at West Virginia University, I followed the outstanding work being done at UNCW in the preparation of educators and in the early days of school-university partnership work. Those impressions continued to develop over the last two decades as the College and the university increasingly gained national attention as a place committed to excellence, enhanced by a strong voice in issues of equity and access to education for all children.

Earlier this year when I visited the campus as a candidate to be the Dean of the Watson College, I had an opportunity to see firsthand, in at least a quick snapshot during my interview experience, how that reputation plays out in the work of the College’s students, staff, faculty and partners. Needless to say, the impressions I had already formed were reinforced and enhanced in compelling and impressive ways during that visit.

Each day since the beginning of my service as Dean on July 1, I have heard stories that help me understand what makes the Watson College great. It is an honor to be Dean, to be part of our work here, and to be part of the stories we tell about that work, creating impressions that we continue to share with the world through the College.

In my first 90 days as Dean I have had numerous opportunities to hear stories about the work of our students, our staff and our faculty. I hear those stories in the College as exceptional faculty colleagues share experiences about their work in Watson, and in collaborative activities across campus. It is easy to see daily and be impressed by the unique importance and role of our staff in the outstanding programming and services that are our hallmarks.

Many of the stories include initiatives and activities done in partnerships with school, districts, and agencies in Wilmington and surrounding communities. Inevitably they include examples about the impact of the work of our alumni, and the talents and emerging professional practices of our students. Partners in our communities speak impressively of their engagement with us and the value of collaboration. And people in our College speak in equally impressive ways as to how those partnerships and collaborations are essential to our work, how we get stronger as a College and how we define success.

It has, to say the least, been a great welcome and transition into the Watson College community. This has been a particularly meaningful transition for our family. Jaci, my wife, is a graduate of the Watson College of Education (a 1988 master’s alumna) and a proud Seahawk. Many of those positive impressions I shared earlier were influenced by stories of her outstanding educational experience here, including those about her respect and admiration for the faculty and the impact they had on her professional identity. In addition, she continues to maintain relationships with friends and colleagues she met at UNCW. (I know from being her colleague over the last quarter-century that those experiences here as a student have led to her being one of the most accomplished educators I have ever known.)

For me, as a native of Scotland Neck, N.C., this opportunity is a “coming home” after 24 years in West Virginia. But as Jaci and I discussed many times, just getting back wasn’t enough. Anytime along the way in those years wasn’t the goal. And anywhere in N.C. wasn’t sufficient. This opportunity in this place in this moment is. The right opportunity for us and our family came together in this opportunity in this moment to be the Dean of the Watson College of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Those first impressions from early in my career have become an exciting opportunity in an outstanding institution. The Watson College is a place with a great history doing great work. I know of no place where such a strong history interfaces with current accomplishment to generate greater potential to impact the future. No doubt we as educators face daunting, and in many ways unprecedented, challenges in colleges of education and public education in general. I believe, though, that the Watson College of Education is positioned as well as any place to turn those challenges into opportunity and success.

How will we do this, and in the process build on extraordinary success already realized? We will do so through the talents, skills and abilities of our students, staff and faculty and how that is manifested in academic excellence. We will do so through strong partnerships and mutually beneficial engagement with schools, school districts, communities, and partners who lead and live in our local communities. We will do so through centers that complement the mission and work of our academic programs. We will do so through constructive relationships with education policy makers and stakeholders who are critical agents in creating those opportunities. And finally, we will do so by staying close to, and learning from, the experiences, perspectives, and successes of our alumni and friends of the Watson College.

I hope every member of the Watson College community will take advantage of opportunities to share your voices, exercise your roles as stakeholders, contribute the benefits of your perspectives, and be committed and critical advocates for education. We all in the Watson College of Education at UNC Wilmington look forward to doing our work together.