JMU's newest deans look to shape colleges¿ future

by James Heffernan


portrait of sharon lovell sitting at her desk on the left and portrait of bob kolvoord sitting at his desk on the right.

The College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering named new deans this spring, but the individuals filling those positions don't need time to settle in and get acclimated. Both Dr. Sharon Lovell, the dean of CHBS, and Dr. Bob Kolvoord, the dean of CISE, had been serving in those roles on an interim basis since the colleges were created in July 2012.

Lovell is a 1985 graduate of JMU and has worked at the university in various capacities since 1990. In addition to a bachelor's degree in psychology from JMU, she holds a master's degree and a doctoral degree in industrial/organizational psychology from Bowling Green State University. Lovell has served as coordinator of the master of arts program in general psychology as well as associate dean of the College of Education and Psychology. Prior to being named interim dean of CHBS, she served as interim dean of the College of Integrated Science and Technology.

Kolvoord, who has a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from the University of Virginia and a doctorate from Cornell University, joined the JMU faculty in 1995 and has served in a variety of roles, including interim director of the School of Engineering, and co-founder and co-director of the Center for STEM Education and Outreach. He has also taught in the educational technology, geographic sciences, and intelligence analysis programs. In 2012, Kolvoord was recognized by the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia with an Outstanding Faculty Award.


How do you define leadership?

Kolvoord:  I see leadership as a collaborative venture. It's engaged in through conversation, it's engaged in through cooperation, and that allows us to draw out the best of everybody in the unit. The dean's role is also to support the faculty and students within the college.

Lovell:  My training is in industrial/organizational psychology, and leadership is certainly a part of that discipline. Yet when I think about my take on leadership, I find that I blend various elements. I wouldn't say I'm a transformational leader or a transactional leader; I prefer to think about different components of leadership that are important to me and that I find very effective and useful. One of the most important is a collaborative style. I believe in establishing and accomplishing a shared vision, and I believe in relationship building and a supportive work environment. I also believe in strong advocacy, facilitation, communication and removing barriers. Another important component is encouraging risk-taking and innovation. So I believe in all those things together as elements of effective leadership.


What are some of your college's strengths?

Kolvoord:  First, we have an outstanding faculty. We have the ability to look at problems from a variety of vantage points and we can bring a variety of perspectives, both technical and non-technical, to any problem. Our faculty and students are interested in problems that matter, whether they be ones of environment, of energy, of understanding living systems. We focus on cutting-edge issues, technologies and topics. We're out there learning something new every day, and I think that makes it a really exciting place to be.

Lovell:  I believe we have many strengths, and the first is our people. CHBS has faculty members who are experts in their fields, highly skilled practitioners, and nationally and internationally known scholars. These include faculty members who have pioneered new classroom learning approaches, who are widely sought after for their work with individuals experiencing disastrous events, who perform leading research in exercise and muscle recovery, and much more. We are dedicated to students' learning and development, and committed to interprofessional and collaborative approaches to outreach and delivery of services.

We also have strong academic programs at all levels — undergraduate through doctorate. Our grant work is a real strength, and that's important in today's academic climate. We lead the academic colleges [at JMU] in grant funding each year. We have a number of faculty and students involved in grant work of various types. The last thing I would mention is our involvement in global learning and international experiences. We have so many short-term study abroad opportunities and other kinds of experiences for learning and research. I feel very good about where we're at as a whole.

What are some areas for improvement?

Kolvoord:  We're really intrigued in trying to continue to build an emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship and helping students develop entrepreneurial thinking skills. So we're working with the College of Business, the College of Visual and Performing Arts and others to do that.

We're also exploring potential new areas. We've been thinking about big data and what kinds of programs or experiences we can provide to help students leave here with a much better understanding of what the possibilities and challenges of big data are. We continue to collaborate and build relationships with industrial design to be thinking about the whole world of digital fabrication and 3-D printing, which has a potential to revolutionize manufacturing and our students need to be ready to work in that area.

Lovell:  Something that we are doing, but need to do a better job of, and more of, is inter-professional education. That means we need students to have more opportunities to learn alongside students from other disciplines. This is especially important in health care settings where you may have a doctor and a nurse, and, depending on the situation, a social worker, psychologist or physical therapist. We don't want our graduates to first encounter teamwork when they're on the job. We want them to understand other disciplines and have an opportunity to work with others inter-professionally before they graduate. It leads to better care, better patient outcomes and reduced costs. Our accrediting bodies are calling for it, but more than that, it's the right thing to do. Inter-professional education is already going on in the Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services, but it needs to be part of our curriculum.

What are some challenges facing your college?

Kolvoord:  I think in some cases we're not well known. Our engineering program is very new, intelligence analysis is very new. ISAT's not so new, but there's still work to do there to make it a household name, to make it commonly understood. We continue to need to spread the word about our programs.

One of the other things we really want to do is to make sure that we have a very broadly diverse group of students and faculty in the college, and we have work to do there. We need to make sure that we're getting the message of our programs out to a variety of audiences, and we need to make sure that we're helping folks succeed when they get here.

Lovell:  Staffing is a concern because of the growing number of students and the need for clinical placements. That requires, in some cases, a different kind of faculty member, one who has experience in clinical settings and is willing to accompany students in those settings. It's hard to find some of those. … In terms of finding expertise, there's only a few areas within the college where that is a problem because of the limited supply. But our programs are highly regarded and some of them are nationally ranked, so people know about us.

As far as space and equipment needs, a lot of those will be met when we move into our new building [in the summer of 2016]. Right now we're bursting at the seams. The provost has been very supportive in providing one-time money to allow us to replace some equipment. We're very equipment-dependent. To do the kind of simulation work that we're going to need to do — which really is overall less expensive than putting students in real situations for education and training purposes — there will be some real needs in terms of equipment and technology at the beginning.

What makes your college attractive to prospective students?

Kolvoord:  We love to innovate. Innovation is at the core of what we do. We have developed an innovative curriculum. I think we have some programs that are unique in the country and we have other programs that are very much at the cutting edge in their particular areas.

JMU is on the path to becoming the national model for the engaged university. That engagement is at the core of what we do, particularly community engagement and engaged learning. Because we apply science, technology, engineering and math, we can't help but have community partners and be thinking about not just the technical solutions, but also how those technical solutions fit into societal contexts.

Lovell:  Our majors are very popular. If anything, our challenge is in serving all of the students who are interested. With certain majors, we've needed to implement progression standards to manage the flow of students. Overall, we're doing well, and if you look at the employment forecast, the majors in this college are ones that will prepare students for careers that are going to be in demand for some time.

While the emphasis of our university on engagement is relatively new, it's something that our college been doing for a long time. Our students are engaged in learning in the classroom and through internships, field experiences and research. The community engagement piece occurs throughout our college, and we have strong relationships with our community partners.

Talk about the importance of collaboration in solving real-world problems.

Kolvoord:  We have numerous connections with units in the College of Science and Mathematics. We're also looking to build connections within the college. To find ways that computer science, the programs in ISAT and engineering can work together. Robotics is one example. And that's an example where we took our most precious resource, space, and committed a laboratory to trying to build a robotics minor, which is done in collaboration with the College of Science and Math as well. And there are more areas that I expect are going to grow over time. Part of that is driven by research, and we have a number of environmental and energy projects.

Lovell:  We're exploring new ways in which we can collaborate with others both within and outside the university. We're looking at developing programs with the arts, which, when introduced in therapy settings, have been shown to produce better outcomes. There is also the potential to collaborate with the STEM areas, which are high priorities right now nationally and at the state level. And there's certainly an opportunity to pursue funding through these sorts of collaborations.

Published May 27, 2014

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Published: Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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