Kelly Dunn joined the University as the new Dean for the Class of 2025 in late August, following the departure of former Dean for the Class of 2025 Tanesha Leathers. Dunn, a first-generation college student, formerly worked as the Director of Student Involvement at Johnson & Wales University, where she received a doctoral degree in education and gained experience working with students in higher education. She hopes to help every student in the Class of 2025 succeed.
Following the departure of former Dean for the Class of 2022 Renee Johnson-Thornton, former Dean Leathers notified the University that she would be leaving the position in mid-August, leading the University to look for two new class deans at once.
“The search committee began reviewing applications in April and continued with meeting potential candidates through June,” Dean of Academic Advancement Laura Patey wrote in an email to The Argus. “As we were engaged in this process, Dean Leathers shared that she would be relocating to the Boston area and would be leaving her position (Dean for the Class of 2025) in mid-August.”
The search committee made offers to both Dean for the Class of 2022 Michael Guerrero and Dunn, who arrived at the University in late August to welcome first years.
Dunn decided to work in higher education after she transferred to Emmanuel College as an undergraduate.
“During that transfer experience, the people that supported me at that school were so amazing that I realized this is what I want to do for students in life,” Dunn said. “So when you think about my career, I’ve worked in enrollment management, so helping high school students get into college, I’ve worked in academic advising, I’ve worked in residential life, I’ve worked in orientation, first-year experience, parent and family relations, at a bunch of different schools in New England.”
Patey emphasized that Dunn’s prior experiences working with students in higher education were a highlight of her application during the search process.
“Dean Dunn brings to the position an array of experiences in academic advising, first year experience, and student engagement; she is passionate about supporting students and enhancing student success,” Patey wrote. “Her previous work and research has really focused on assisting students with transition and we felt as though her skills, experience, and energy would be enormously helpful for the students entering in the Class of 2025.”
During the interview process, Dunn met with various members of the Wesleyan community, including the other class deans, faculty members, and Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) senators.
“It seemed like almost every member of the student experience was on my search committee, and that’s really intentional and very common in higher education because I’m not just one-dimensional as a class dean,” Dunn said. “I need to support students in every facet of their experience, so it makes sense that all of them were there.”
The position was appealing to Dunn because it allowed her to apply her experiences in higher education.
“I was very intentional after I got my doctorate, kind of figuring out what role can I be in, where I can support the holistic development of students, so their academic wellness, their personal wellness, their social wellness, co-curricular wellness,” Dunn said. “And I came across the academic dean position, and when I read the description, and I myself have never gone to a mini Ivy or an Ivy League school where class deans existed…. The more I did research on it, the more I thought I would really be able to take all of my experience in education and apply it in this position.”
Additionally, Dunn explained that she is excited to work with one group of students throughout their entire time at the University.
“The other reason I was very intrigued by the position is because the class dean moves with the class throughout their four years, so the relationships that you get to develop with students become much more deeper than other institutions where it’s just the first-year class dean or just the sophomore class dean, so I really enjoy that,” Dunn said.
Dunn emphasized that as a class dean, she hopes to be a resource for students’ general wellbeing, not just when they have problems.
“I certainly am working with students who are experiencing challenges in different areas, but I’m also being really intentional about reaching out even when there aren’t issues,” Dunn said. “I’m reaching out to people who are on The Argus who are first years and talking with them when I see their articles. I’m reaching out to athletes and going to their games and getting to know them on the field. I also send out random emails to about five to ten first-year students every week, saying, ‘Hey, I’m the class dean. I’d love to get to know you, and feel free to email me or schedule an appointment.’”
As she enters her new role, Dunn recognizes that some students may feel apprehensive about reaching out to their class dean, but encourages them to not be intimidated.
“It’s nice to see that students recognize I’m just a resource in their toolkit and I want nothing but them to do well, and so when we break down those barriers of the title of Dean, they can see that I’ve been through college, I’m a first generation student, I know what it’s like to navigate some of the cultural capital that people might not be aware of ’cause they haven’t experienced it before, so it’s just been really nice getting to know some students,” Dunn said.
Dunn hopes to get to know each member of the Class of 2025 before they graduate and aims to make every student feel connected and always supported.
“As the class dean, I’m definitely one of the number one supporters of the Class of 2025,” Dunn said. “I want to hear the good and the bad. I want to help students through challenges and I want to be proactive and get to know them and…what their goals are for the rest of not just their time at Wesleyan, but what they want to do after Wesleyan. There’s a lot of different paths students can take, and I would love to be able to help the Class of 2025 on those paths, on their journeys.”
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