Like Pitt’s 3,000+ incoming first year students, first year Dean Kathleen Blee—the Bettye J. and Ralph E. Bailey Dean of the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and the College of General Studies—is looking forward to learning new things, taking on new challenges, and finding new opportunities to make a positive difference. While Blee officially began her Deanship on August 15, 2017, she and the Dietrich School’s leadership team have been working since she was appointed in April to guarantee that her transition from her prior position as the school’s Senior Associate Dean would be smooth and effective.
“We all recognize that the continued excellence of the Dietrich School is essential in positioning the University as a world-class institution,” says Blee. “We have a very full agenda and we’re excited to get started.”
Among the first things on Blee’s to-do list is what she’s calling a “listening tour.” Throughout the fall and winter, she and the school’s newest associate deans, Kay Brummond and Adam Leibovich, will be visiting all of the Dietrich School’s academic departments to meet with faculty members and hear about their goals, plans for the future, and the obstacles they face in achieving their potential.
Explains Blee, “Each department and discipline has its own unique perspective and needs. Some might have concerns about recruiting undergraduate majors, others might be more focused on recruiting the next generation of faculty. The more we know about each department, the better positioned we’ll be to support their efforts.”
While she recognizes that each of the school’s academic units is unique, Blee also hopes to foster an increased spirit of interdisciplinarity among and between departments that will ultimately lead to inventive, compelling research and scholarship and the development of new degree-granting programs.
“The arts and sciences are intellectually interdependent,” says Blee. “Some of the most exhilarating things are happening at the edges of the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences, where they bump up against each other. We need to embrace this interdependence and identify zones of intellectual opportunity. Many of our students and faculty are already creating these opportunities. More than 30% of our undergraduates are double and triple majoring, often pairing unexpected disciplines like music and math or biological sciences and religious studies.”
As the school’s Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research, one of Blee’s signature initiatives was establishing the Faculty Diversity Committee. Under her leadership, that group consulted with departments on how to enhance their faculty recruitment efforts; assisted departments in building and sustaining practices of intellectual and collegial inclusivity and support; and, provided training for department chairs on effective faculty mentoring. As Dean, Blee will continue to make diversity and inclusion a priority across the Dietrich School.
“Diverse groups of people are better than any one person at solving problems,” says Blee. “We know that one way to be truly inclusive is to have more diverse representation around the tables where decisions are made. So we’re making leadership and professional development opportunities within the school more accessible by making the application and selection processes more transparent. We’re also building on the successes that my predecessor, John Cooper, had in recruiting diverse faculty members by improving our efforts to mentor those scholars once they’re on board. We want to be more welcoming.”
Creating a welcoming environment is one of the core values or operating principles Blee has developed for the school. Others includes collaboration; communication; promoting diversity and inclusion; responsiveness; strategic decision making; supporting excellence; and transparency.
Offers Blee, “I want all members of the Dietrich School community—faculty, staff, students—to feel like they have a stake in, and are contributing to, the mission of the Dietrich School and the University. These touchstones are one way to keep us all accountable to each other, and to ensure that we’re encouraging an atmosphere where everyone feels empowered to share their good ideas. Innovation isn’t a top-down proposition. The Dietrich School is a collective endeavor, and we all have a role to play in its success.”