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5 Minutes with … Karen Ryan

Dean Karen Ryan

Karen Ryan is Dean of Stetson University’s College of Arts & Sciences.

Tell us about your job at Stetson?

My job is leading, facilitating and supporting the work of the students, faculty and staff in the College of Arts and Sciences, the largest and most complex of Stetson’s schools and colleges.  The College is the liberal arts heart of the University, with 19 academic departments and about 150 faculty members. So it’s intellectually and professionally diverse, ranging from Biology to History to Religious Studies to Education.  We have graduate programs as well as undergraduate programs, and some of our fastest-growing programs are interdisciplinary, like Environmental Science and Studies, and Public Health. I work with talented and committed colleagues in Student Life, collaborating with them to provide a holistic education to our students. I work with the Provost and with my fellow deans on academic programs, budget, facilities, and many other issues.

As Dean, I’ve had the extraordinary opportunity to recruit and hire over 50 full-time faculty members in the College. That’s meant bringing to Stetson a cohort of bright, engaged and energetic women and men to teach and carry out research at Stetson. Having built this cohort, I work with my colleagues to support them to grow and develop as teacher-scholars, and to progress successfully through the tenure and promotion process.

I’m also very involved in program building as Dean. In the last few years, we’ve created new degree programs in Global Development, Public Health, Public Management, Data Analytics and the Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.  My colleagues and I envisioned and created the new Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience, the first institute of its kind at Stetson.

Karen Ryan talks with Sociology Professor Diane Everett in Ryan’s office inside Elizabeth Hall at Stetson.

Now we’re working on a new interdisciplinary program in Food Studies and a joint program in Entertainment Arts with Daytona State University.  We’re also developing a program to provide classes for men incarcerated at the Tomoka Correctional Institution, a program that aligns well with Stetson’s social justice mission.

Some of the work I do as Dean is largely invisible. I develop and administer the College’s many budgets.  I work with Facilities Management to maintain and renovate the eight academic buildings on campus that house the College.  And I’m involved in planning new facilities, including the Aquatic Center on Lake Beresford, and a home for the creative and performing arts in the Museum of Art – DeLand building.  Finally, I spend quite a lot of time on fundraising, talking with alumni and friends of the College about opportunities to support our students and faculty, to develop programs, to conceive new initiatives.

I often have the opportunity to talk with external constituencies – visitors, conference attendees, families, potential students – about the value of a Stetson liberal arts education.  It’s part of my job to make the case that an education in the College equips students with the transferable skills and abilities they need: critical thinking, oral and written communication, quantitative reasoning, collaboration, and so on.  That’s a part of the job that I enjoy a great deal, because I believe so strongly that education is the way to make transformative, positive change in our world.

How long have you worked here?

I’m completing my fifth year as Dean; I came to Stetson in the summer of 2012 after 22 years as a teacher, scholar, and administrator at the University of Virginia.

What do you like most about your work?

What I like most is that no two days are the same. Every day as Dean brings new issues, new challenges, new ideas. Some days I spend on campus meeting with colleagues, other days I’m traveling and meeting with alumni and friends of the University. And some days I spend reading, studying, writing. I very much enjoy the people I work with, the department chairs and faculty and staff who are committed to advancing Stetson and our programs. I’m constantly learning in my work, which makes it incredibly satisfying to me.

When people ask you about Stetson, what do you say?

I describe Stetson as an excellent small liberal arts institution with a strong social justice mission, but that doesn’t capture Stetson’s essence. I point out the diversity of our students and our faculty, and emphasize our commitment to inclusion. I try to convey the sense of community we have here, the importance of relationship and dialogue in the learning experience.  And I often repeat what so many alumni have said to me about their Stetson education – that it changed and transformed their lives.  That speaks volumes, I think, about Stetson’s identity and role.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I’m a literary scholar by training, so I’m always deep in a novel.  And I’ve learned to love Florida’s landscapes; I enjoy hiking, birding, kayaking, getting out into the woods and onto the water.


Education: B.A. in Soviet Studies from Cornell University; M.A. and Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the University of Michigan; studied at Moscow State University.
Hometown:  Poolville, N.Y. (a hamlet of 125 people with two stop signs)
Family: I have four grown children. Katie is a trauma/ER nurse and works for Boston Healthcare for the Homeless. Christopher is a Captain in the U.S. Marines. Benjamin is starting law school at Georgetown University in the fall. Patrick recently graduated from UVA and is working at a public relations firm.