SOCORRO, N.M. July 6, 2011 – Dr. Mary Dezember, a member of the New Mexico Tech faculty since fall 2000, assumed new duties on July 1 as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, succeeding Dr. Scott Zeman, who held the position for four years.
Dr. Mary Dezember has been busy moving into her new office in the Academic Affairs suite in Brown Hall, where a portrait of Albert Einstein, painted by her father, Garnett Dezember, keeps a close watch.
Dezember is the third person in a row from her department promoted to the post. She was instrumental in transitioning the then-Humanities Department to the Communication, Liberal Arts, Social Sciences Department, or CLASS.
She views a major aspect of her job as that of a liaison between the university community and the agencies that measure how New Mexico Tech is meeting established state and national standards.
Dr. Peter F. Gerity, Vice President for Academic Affairs, spoke highly both of Dezember and her predecessor.
“Dr. Mary Dezember is very well positioned for her new assignments as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs,” Gerity said. “Mary has been extremely effective in her role as Chair of the CLASS Department, and has developed very strong academic programs that benefit the entire community of academic disciplines.”
While Dezember is busy moving into her new digs in Brown Hall, Zeman has taken his place as Dean of Biscayne University, part of the University of St. Thomas, a Catholic college just north of Miami and a short drive from the beach.
“Scott Zeman was a key contributor to the success of the growth and development of our academic programs, and quickly became a leader in all areas that were assigned to him,” Gerity said. “He worked tirelessly with students, faculty and our grant writing teams to ensure our success in many ways.
“Scott goes to his new post extremely well prepared to take on the new challenges at that institution. Of course, he is missed by all of us in Academic Affairs, and we wish him all of the best for continued growth and success with his career,” Gerity said.
Dezember’s own transition from classroom teacher, researcher and creative writer to a top administrator in New Mexico Tech’s collegiate division did not happen all at once.
“Last fall, I became team leader of the Higher Learning Commission’s (HLC) Pathways Improvement Project, a pilot program,” Dezember said, adding that it was “a real honor” to have been invited on behalf of New Mexico Tech, which, she said, has a reputable standing with the HLC.
Her work with the national collegiate accreditation agency was taken into consideration when she applied for the administrative job last spring.
“Mary’s outstanding work with state articulation and curriculum re-design are among the assets which were well recognized by the search committee,” Gerity said.
“Her role in leading our new ‘Pathways Program’ for the accreditation effort for the 2014 academic re-accreditation process has been exemplary. I am confident that she will lead our team in the next three years to success.”
Dezember will teach the two courses she originally was signed up for this Fall, but has no courses lined up for spring 2012. Nonetheless, “I’m determined to teach,” Dezember said. “I love it, and don’t want to lose that connection with the students.”
She will maintain her involvement with them by attending meetings of the Society for Technical Communication, and visiting with CLASS majors and other Tech students. “I really enjoy our students,” she said.
Dezember also will continue the poetry readings she began several years ago, and the open-mic sessions at the Manzanares Street Coffee House. “That’s my goal, my focus ... to maintain student, faculty and staff interactions,” she said.
She defines her new post as “building relationships, with finesse, for student learning and meeting academic standards” – and heavy on the finesse. “If you’re building relationships without that element, then they’re not true relationships,” she explained. Faculty should be respected for their contributions, and for the positive things they accomplish, rather than to be told what to do. Meanwhile, it’s Dezember’s job to lead them in the chorus: “Are our students learning what they’re supposed to be learning? Are we maintaining the standards to which we’re accountable?”
Dezember identifies herself as a poet and a university professor, a teacher and researcher. Serving as department chair for three years, and another as associate chair, gave her a broader perspective that helped to clarify and define the educational process, she said.
Meanwhile, she was named to the Computing on Campus Committee and served that body as chair as well. “I found my work on the committee to be very rewarding,” she said. “I enjoyed working with the other members, hearing their viewpoints, and organizing them into goals that would be good for the campus, then designing steps to getting them done,” she said.
She also discovered that she was unconsciously utilizing skills she developed in rearing two young children as a single mother and a graduate student. “That’s when I developed my ‘get it done’ attitude,” she said.
“When you have to make dinner, get the children to do their homework, and have homework yourself, there’s only so much time, so you have to get it done – you don’t have a choice,” she said.
“As chair, I was seeing students in my office with all kinds of questions, on how specific courses could be used to fulfill general degree requirements,” she said. Dezember became aware of balancing campus needs with state requirements, and with her colleagues has hashed out these ideas, and others, during the annual summer departmental retreat.
“We wanted to have a vision for our department,” Dezember said, which meant addressing expectations as well as shortfalls. In answering the question, Where do we go from here?, Dezember and her colleagues voted to rename the department to better reflect its focus and diversity in teaching and research in the areas of Communication, Liberal Arts, and Social Sciences.
“Everyone in the department teaches communication, and we have our reputable Technical Communication major, so we wanted the ‘communication’ part right out front,” Dezember said.
“We like the motto, ‘Tech has CLASS,’” she said.
CLASS faculty and instructors still are working on how best to showcase the breadth and depth of the department in arming New Mexico Tech students with the communication skills necessary for success. “This has to be an Institute-wide commitment,” Dezember said, in recognizing that CLASS is integral to these developments.
Dezember is an Indiana native who first discovered the Southwest after moving to Phoenix with her parents. Her first interview to join the faculty at New Mexico Tech was in 1999 at the Modern Language Association conference, followed in February 2000 by a visit to the campus, her first real experience in New Mexico, a state Dezember had only driven through.
These days, she maintains close ties with her two adult children and her three step-children that she raised; she also enjoys quiet times at home with her cat, Sam. In addition to participating in and attending poetry readings, she practices Shao-Lin kung fu and hikes the New Mexico landscape.
“I fell in love with New Mexico, and I felt the desert landscape, with its wide, expansive view, met with what I call my ‘internal landscape',” she said.
The newest of the university’s associate vice presidents now shares that view, literally and figuratively, with her colleagues across campus, and with a league of agency chiefs and administrators across the nation.
But Dezember emphasized over and over, that all these collective viewpoints eventually narrow into one primary focus: “We all want to do what’s best for the students,” she said. “That’s why we’re here.”
– NMT –
By Valerie Kimble/New Mexico Tech