DSU’s new College of Arts, Sciences leader brings vast, varied background

June 23, 2020

This paid piece is sponsored by Dakota State University.

Chinese history, global understanding and peacemaking, and decades in higher education all helped prepare Dakota State University’s newest leader for his role as head of the College of Arts and Sciences.

New dean Dr. David Kenley began his position Monday, moving to Madison from Pennsylvania, where he taught history at Elizabethtown College.

Kenley brings a unique understanding of the broad and critical role the field of arts and sciences plays in preparing future leaders.

He has a Ph.D. in Chinese history and has worked in higher education for more than 20 years, teaching history at Marshall University in West Virginia before his most recent role.

During his time at Elizabethtown, he also served as the director of the Center for Global Understanding and Peacemaking. Additionally, he supervised all study-abroad programs, led internationalization efforts on campus and directed three interdisciplinary programs: international studies, peace and conflict studies and Asian studies.

His career has taken him across the globe, and he comes to DSU with a strong vision for the College of Arts and Sciences.

The skills taught there are increasingly in demand in business as organizations worldwide seek employees who embody a variety of soft skills in communication, leadership, conflict resolution and critical thinking.

Kenley sat down to discuss his goals and initiatives for the College of Arts and Sciences, its staff and its students.

What brought you to Dakota State?

This position presents many appealing aspects; most notably, it will allow me to lead a group of dedicated professionals within the arts and sciences. I wanted to work at a relatively small institution that had a clear sense of mission, a promising future and visionary leaders. DSU checks all of these boxes. It also presents an exciting opportunity to live in the upper Midwest. Having previously lived in Utah, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Hawaii and Taiwan, I am eager for a new cultural experience in South Dakota.

How will your new position as dean differ from your previous position at Elizabethtown College?

There will be many similarities, including working across disciplinary boundaries in promoting high-quality educational experiences for all our students. As dean, I have a greater opportunity to work with the instructional faculty to help them reach their fullest potential as teachers, scholars and service-oriented members of our community.

How has your past experience prepared you for the role as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences?

I have many years’ experience teaching in the disciplines associated with the college and am deeply committed to the values and methodologies inherent in the sciences, humanities and arts. In the past, my colleagues have provided me with many leadership opportunities, including service as department chair, center director, faculty assembly vice president and various chairmanships within the faculty governance structure.

These opportunities have helped me gain a greater appreciation of the complexities we face in a rapidly changing higher education landscape. Our current pandemic challenges have also accelerated many of those changes. Only by being creative, nimble and data-focused will we be able to prepare our students to be leaders in their professions and communities.

How will your experience at Elizabethtown College help you determine the direction of academic programs within the College of Arts and Sciences at DSU?

There are many differences between Elizabethtown College and DSU. Elizabethtown is a private, independent college, so we had flexibility in creating new programs and starting innovative initiatives. Although DSU is part of the larger regental system, I hope my previous experience will help us to look beyond existing structures and focus on being agile and results-oriented.

What do you look forward to achieving in this position?

Nationally, the arts and sciences have seen declining enrollment over the past decade. I want to be a champion of our arts and sciences faculty and shine a light on the amazing work they are doing. I also want to ensure that all our students, from across the university, are able to develop the skills and attributes frequently associated with the arts and sciences, including the ability to think critically, find creative solutions and communicate their ideas effectively and convincingly.

What will the most challenging aspect of this position be? How do you foresee yourself overcoming that challenge?

When I accepted this position, I never anticipated dealing with the challenge of a pandemic, and right now that is consuming a lot of my attention. Beyond the pandemic, however, I look forward to the challenge of increasing our student retention and ensuring that all our graduates have the opportunity to engage in high-impact learning experiences such as internships, research, study abroad and community-based learning. A key component in this endeavor will be recruiting and retaining the highest quality instructors.

What relationships and partnerships do you hope to create in your new position?

I look forward to working with the arts and sciences faculty to support them in their professional goals as they work to support our students. I am also looking forward to developing relationships with those from Madison, Sioux Falls, Pierre and throughout the region. I enjoy collaborating with government officials, alumni, potential donors and opinion leaders.

What goals and plans do you have for the College of Arts and Sciences?

I want to provide every student who graduates from the College of Arts and Sciences with the skills and experiences necessary to thrive in their occupation and community. We need to verify that our curriculum pathways are providing students with access to practitioners, internship opportunities, recognized credentials and the professional soft skills needed to excel in a variety of environments.

What do you foresee as collaborative projects here?

I believe our computer game design program is one example of the creative collaborative projects already in existence at DSU. Another one currently in the works is a Sound Design website that catalogs and analyzes the songs of migratory birds. Students within the College of Arts and Sciences from music and biology are collaborating with students from the Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences on this exciting project. Collaboration possibilities are endless, and I look forward to facilitating more of these projects.

How does or would this cross-disciplinary work provide additional relevance for the College of Arts and Sciences programs of study?

For many years, educators have been emphasizing the importance of an education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM. More recently we have heard about STEAM education, with the “A” representing the arts. According to journalist Rebecca Angel from wired.com, “Creativity is the foundation for advancement in all fields. The arts – writing, music, art, theater and dance – paired with science, technology, engineering and math, foster a relationship between both sides of the brain for maximum human innovation potential.” As we collaborate with our colleagues across and beyond the College of Arts and Sciences, we will provide our students with a truly impactful learning experience.

How do you plan to continue the rise of innovation and technology within the College of Arts and Sciences?

I have a few ideas regarding innovation and technology that I am eager to share with my new colleagues. For instance, we should consider ways in which we can teach our students about the value and application of geographic information systems. I would also like to see how we might embed the concepts of digital humanities more concretely in the undergraduate curriculum. Most importantly, I want to hear the ideas of our faculty, staff and administrators. I am confident they have many fantastic ideas that I can help bring to fruition.

What opportunities do you hope to bring to the College of Arts and Sciences?

I hope I can use my own experiences and passion to bring new opportunities to our students, faculty and staff. For example, cross-cultural experiences are critical to fostering a more compassionate and just society. Recent events have reminded us this remains very much a work in progress. We can provide students and faculty with cross-cultural experiences through study abroad and by bringing diverse perspectives onto campus.

I am also an advocate of scholarly discovery. Our faculty are better teachers because they are active scholars. Similarly, our students’ education will be incomplete unless they have numerous opportunities to engage in scholarly research and present their findings in public fora. I hope to provide our faculty and students more of these types of opportunities.

What do you look forward to as you begin your new position?

I am impressed with the university’s leadership, open channels of communication and clarity of mission. I look forward to getting to know the faculty, staff and students in the coming weeks.

Want to stay in the know?

Get our free business news delivered to your inbox.

DSU’s new College of Arts, Sciences leader brings vast, varied background

Chinese history, global understanding and peacemaking, and decades in higher education all helped prepare Dakota State University’s newest leader for his role as head of the College of Arts and Sciences.

News Tip

Have a business news item to share with us?

Scroll to top