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UW's new College of Arts and Sciences Dean looks ahead to restructuring and growth

A smiling woman is surronded by plants
University of Wyoming
Camellia Moses Okpodu

The College of Arts and Sciences hired a new dean last June. Before Dean Camellia Moses Okpodu came to the University of Wyoming (UW), she was the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Xavier University of Louisiana. She's trained as a plant physiologist. Due to restructuring, the UW College of Arts and Sciences is projected to become the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. Wyoming Public Radio's Ivy Engel sat down with Dean Okpodu to talk about her deanship thus far and the future of the college.

Camellia Moses Okpodu: I'm working with the faculty as a leader to try to help us to forge what our new vision and mission will be for this college. One thing that has to stay intact, whether we're the College of Arts and Sciences or this new college, we have to make sure that we are providing the type of holistic experience that our students need so that they can either come back to the state of Wyoming, to see themselves as entrepreneurs in the state, or wherever they decide to go, that they can become change agents in their communities. And as the state's only four-year institution, it becomes paramount to me that access and availability to people who would normally not see us as an option is available to them. That's what I want to do, is make sure that we're beholden to our true vision and mission of what we're supposed to be for the state and for the United States, and inevitably the world.

Ivy Engel: And actually, with that restructuring, your experience is more on the sciences side. Do you think this restructuring will be challenging for you going from the sciences experience to a focus on more of the humanities in the Arts and Social Sciences?

CMO: So I would beg to differ. My degrees might be in science, but I have a breadth of experiences. So I paid for college by doing singing. I didn't finish the degree, but I probably had enough to get a minor in music theory. But so I have that part of my mind. I'm still a performer. I have been involved in the performance area because I have a daughter that's actually an independent artist who's doing really well. And I've been helping her as best I can with her career. So I understand the arts. So I think that the challenge is, being a dean of either Dean of Arts and Sciences, or dean of the humanities area, you have to have leadership skills. You're the conduit by which things are done. The biggest challenge I see is resources. I understand what it means to have to go through accreditation for these areas. If you look at best practices for colleges of humanities, and arts and behavioral sciences, you'll see that that's one of the hallmarks and most of the land grants that have these types of schools, that they made sure that all the departments that are within that school that can be accredited, that they've got the highest certification they can do. I think that's important in the long term for our students. Imagine if we had a school that could support film and scriptwriting because we have a dynamic creative writing program. I can see that we become the Hollywood of the West in Wyoming. Come to "Laradise" and create your films and write your short stories. Come here, because UW is the place to do that.

IE: You said that one of the biggest challenges right now is resources. And so is that primarily financial or can you kind of expand upon that a little bit?

CMO: We had budget cuts and I kind of stepped in right as - I guess they had delayed some budget cuts and now I'm going through that and trying to make sure that we have faculty that we can keep our talent here. So retention, having a budget where I can retain people. So having faculty lines, or I can hire new people, I think if you talk to any dean, that's what they're gonna always say the resources of having people. So it's part of the process. And so when I say lack of additional resources, I'm talking about human capital. But there's also a need for, you know, we have a wonderful herbarium here and it's not just for UW. The herbarium is a treasure to any of anybody who's studying Western flora would want to have access to our herbarium, which are directors, we have a new director came on just before I got here, and he's doing a good job. But that's something that we need to have. I was wondering, I wonder if the state when there could have put a line in like they did for Anthropology for the herbarium, right to make sure that we always have those specimens.

IE: And kind of along those lines, arts and humanities are infamously the programs that tend to get cut if budget cuts arise. How do you plan to protect the college from that or continue to grow the college if we are going through budget cuts?

CMO: So people don't normally cut things that are growing. We usually have necrosis. And that's when you amputate or get rid of things. But if something is productive, you'd be hard pressed to not support it. You can see the practical need of engineering, but the pandemic has shown us that we have a practical need for creative outlets, and understanding the societal need of having a holistic approach to who we are as humans. But I think one of the unintended consequences or outcomes from this pandemic is how much we rely on those areas of being human. Generally, they don't go for STEM because STEM programs usually bring in money, so we just have to do that as well. And there are ways for us to do that. I would like to see a film industry. One of our partners we should have here is film industry and maybe we go after that would be a natural synergy with the communication and journalism, or visual literary arts in English and dance and theater, and all the things in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, that will be something that we should consider creating those relationships that people will see us as an option. So, I think that that's the way you keep yourself relevant. But there's always going to be this question of, 'Well, we don't need to have such and such, right?' But if we're going to be the premier institution for the state, we have to be a complete university and not a technical college. And so hopefully, that will weigh in on the minds of people who are making the decisions.

IE: What exactly is the timeline for the restructuring?

CMO: Okay, so it seems to be moving. So my understanding, initially, the board agreed that by July 1 of 2024, all the departments that are going to be moved from A&S would be moved to new colleges. But now there's some conversation about moving some of those things quicker than that. So by 2024, we should complete [it]; I think that would be the initiation of the new college.

IE: Is there anything else you want to add or anything important you want to stress?

CMO: I'm just so thankful for this opportunity to provide the leadership and the movement as we move into a new whatever we will become. On April 18, we're having a whole day symposium that's open to the public in the Union on campus to discuss this idea of what our new college will become. So we'll be gathering ideas from all of our constituents. We'll have a link on our university webpage as well if people want to come and participate in person.

Ivy started as a science news intern in the summer of 2019 and has been hooked on broadcast ever since. Her internship was supported by the Wyoming EPSCoR Summer Science Journalism Internship program. In the spring of 2020, she virtually graduated from the University of Wyoming with a B.S. in biology with minors in journalism and business. When she’s not writing for WPR, she enjoys baking, reading, playing with her dog, and caring for her many plants.
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