The Scarlet Interview — Marjorie Kostelnik, Dean of Education and Human Sciences

Dec 13th, 2012 | By | Category: 2012, Campus News, Dec. 13, Issue, Scarlet Interviews

Marjorie Kostelnik, dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences, came to UNL in 2000 as dean of the College of Human Resources and Family Sciences. In 2004, Human Resources and Family Sciences merged with Teachers College to become one of the first colleges of Education and Human Sciences. She served on faculty at Michigan State University for 22 years. She has taught a variety of classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and her research focuses on early childhood education and community coalition building. Scarlet editor Troy Fedderson sat down with Kostelnik to discuss her experience as dean.

What is it like being UNL’s senior dean?

To think you’ve been in a particular place for longer than a decade is exciting and amazing. It has been interesting to see how things change over time. As senior dean, you have a sense of history, but I don’t think people treat you differently. When I became dean the other deans were very friendly and offered a lot of good information. They also let me know that we were equals and there wasn’t some waiting period before I was allowed to talk or express myself. I’ve tried to offer the same to new deans that have come on board.

What is your favorite part of being dean of EHS?

I have three favorite things. The first is handing out diplomas at graduation. I just love that because it sends a very strong signal to students and families that this is an institution that cares about them as an individual. Number two is working with faculty and administrators in the college. I love learning about the breadth of what our people are doing — from working with molecules to working with individuals, families and schools and everything between. The third thing is our students. It’s wonderful being surrounded by students who want to make the world better and the many different ways they work to realize that.

Looking back, how challenging was the merger of Human Resources and Family Sciences with Teachers College?

My career in academia has been spent, one way or another, growing new programs. I’ve been very lucky in those experiences, having people coming together who have things in common but did not necessarily know each other really well at the start. They always recognize they’ll be better together and that helps when you are working toward a common goal. When we started to create this new college here at UNL, it was the same. It wasn’t easy. But there was a basic fundamental notion that together, all these disciplines could make the world better for individuals, families and schools. Thinking we could make a difference brought us together.

Next year is our 10th birthday as a college. In that time, we’ve tripled our grant activity and almost doubled in size. We are also giving our students a more holistic experience.

What is it like overseeing such a diverse group of academic units?

It’s never boring. I get a chance to learn about things that I never even dreamed I would have had a chance to explore. To better understand what our people do, I read their journal articles and look at posters they send. I also read every professional accomplishment report and every abstract from master’s theses and dissertations. I feel it is important to keep up with the breadth of activity we have in Education and Human Sciences.

How does the College of Education and Human Sciences stack up against related Big Ten programs?

We did an analysis two years ago. I asked every department to tell me who they saw as their peers in the Big Ten, what we could learn from them and what they could learn from us. That was a wonderful exercise because we were able to identify peers that would be beneficial. Only one Big Ten university, Ohio State, has an entire college that is the same as EHS. The other institutions have the same departments or disciplines represented.

Ohio State is twice as big, but their dean and I are friendly. She came for a visit and was genuinely impressed by our innovative instruction programs. I went for a visit and saw they were integrated in ways that we are not yet.

I think we all recognize that there are things we can gain and learn from each other.

What are your long-term plans for the college?

One of our long-term goals is to have partnerships with every Big Ten school. We are already engaged with Penn State through Extension and working with military families. We have a research project with Ohio State on reading and literacy. So, we are on our way to achieving that goal. I also want to see us develop a good succession plan in terms of leadership within the college. And I want this college to remain strategically and academically nimble so that we embrace new ideas and pursue new avenues of achievement.

How important is it for EHS faculty to find balance between teaching, research/creative activity and community outreach?

Balance is important, but that does not mean the parts are even. We are not expecting that everyone in this college do their job in the same way. We believe in differential workloads that play to individual strengths. When you step back and look at the entire group, that’s where I want to see balance.

In the end, we want our teaching, research and outreach to dovetail.

What is the college doing in terms of student recruitment and retention?

One thing we are not doing in terms of enrollment is making quotas. Instead, we are asking each department to think about how they will help us grow. We want to grow in ways that make sense. We need to manage those programs that are popular and make others more attractive. We are having those conversations now.

We have started looking at transfer students as almost 40 percent of our incoming first year students come to us from community colleges or other universities. We want to make sure our transfer students have a good experience. One of the things we are doing this fall is having suppers and orientation sessions for transfer students.

We are also working on programs for international students and our professional advisers are thinking of ways to improve the advising process.

What is one thing you want every potential student to know about the College of Education and Human Sciences?

If they come here, we will introduce them to the knowledge and skills they need to have a satisfying career that makes a difference in peoples’ lives — their own and whomever they work with.

What is something most people do not know about you?

I canoe whenever I get the chance. I also play bocci.

What do you do for fun during your down time?

I love to watch old movies. And I love to cook.

If you had to vacate your office due to an emergency situation, what is the one thing you could not leave behind?

I would definitely grab this painting. It’s called “The First Day of School” and is by Mathias Muleme. He is an artist from Canada and this painting if based on a picture from Uganda, his native country. It shows a mom, dad and child on the first day of school. I love it because it was painted by a person who left his own country for another place to be free and safe with his family. And also because the artist so fondly remembers the importance of the first day of school.

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