New CLAS dean affirms value of liberal education, especially during uncertain times, in virtual first college meeting

For her first meeting with College of Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty and staff, the current times called for new Dean Jennifer Drake to address not an auditorium audience but a sea of about 500 virtual meeting squares.

The message Drake delivered to her colleagues is that their training makes them particularly qualified to weather uncertain times for themselves and for their students. She acknowledged this is a time of anxiety as faculty and staff prepare for the semester.

"Our resilience owes much to our very background in the liberal arts and sciences," Drake said. "This year we will be modeling resilience for our students every day as well as for each other."

Drake started her new position earlier this month after most recently serving as provost and vice president for Student and Academic Life at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. During the meeting, she discussed some of her goals leading CLAS while also taking questions from faculty members ranging from immediate concerns to the long-term vision for the curriculum and college.

The meeting also included updates, remarks and encouragement from President Philomena V. Mantella and Provost Maria Cimitile, executive vice president for Academic and Student Affairs. 

Drake emphasized to her colleagues that the study of human cultures, creative expression and the physical and natural world will equip students with the capabilities to be engaged citizens. Those disciplines and the methods used to study them will allow students to develop skills like teamwork, problem solving and more that will make them adaptive, creative lifelong learners.

Jennifer Drake
Jennifer Drake began her duties as the new CLAS dean in August.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

She said she is striving to build relationships even with the current limitations.

"As a new member of the Grand Valley community, I am especially interested in hearing what each of you have to say about your work and our collective work," Drake said. "The diversity of people and perspectives in CLAS is one of our greatest assets."

Some other points Drake addressed:

  • She stressed the importance of a deep commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. That will be carried out by analyzing hiring practices, being mindful of potential implicit bias and studying how these values are threaded throughout the curriculum.
  • Drake called experiential learning the "secret sauce of Grand Valley" and said that CLAS must remain focused on providing engaging opportunities. She said she is encouraged by the creative thinking of educators to find ways to continue this important asset in the current climate through technology.
  • Growing graduate programs not only helps recruit and retain undergraduate students for advanced studies with Grand Valley but also helps support learners at all stages of life expand their skill sets and find alternatives to regaining employment, especially in times of steep job loss, Drake said.