Dees steps down as KSU dean, will return to teaching

Morning Journal/Deanne Johnson Dr. David Dees, dean of Kent State University’s Columbiana County Campuses in Salem and East Liverpool, delivered his final commencement address earlier this week after deciding to step down and return to the classroom at the Kent campus.

SALEM — Helping students find those “aha” moments, when lessons click into place and the light goes on — that’s what Dr. David Dees wants to get back to doing.

“There’s nothing better than watching a student get it,” the Guilford Lake resident said.

Dees has been dean and chief administrative officer of the Kent State University Columbiana Campuses, Salem and East Liverpool, since June 1, 2017, but he’s leaving Aug. 5 and returning to his role on the Kent campus as a tenured professor in the School of Foundations, Leadership and Administration in the College of Education, Health and Human Services. He’ll also be teaching in one of the doctoral programs, Interprofessional Leadership.“I’m excited. It’s bittersweet. I loved being dean, love Columbiana County. I truly miss the classroom,” he said.

As dean, he didn’t have the same connection with the students that he had as a teacher and missed seeing those “aha” moments.“It felt like the right time to make a change and go back to my first passion of teaching students and being in the classroom,” he said.

Dees got his first taste of teaching shortly after earning his bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Kentucky, spending time as a teaching assistant for an introduction to theatre class. He went on to earn his master’s degree in theatre at the University of Kentucky and joined Kent State University in 1991, earning his Ph.D. in cultural foundations of education. He previously served as director of Kent State’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

As dean, Dees founded the Rising Scholars program, formerly known as Rural Scholars, which takes students beginning in junior high and follows them all through high school, and exposes them to educational experiences to prepare for life after they graduate. The program also includes scholarships for the Salem and East Liverpool campuses for students who complete Rising Scholars.

Dees is proud of the program because of the way it’s privately funded and involves the community and helps the students. It’s now in every school in Columbiana County and that local success led to the program being expanded to all KSU regional campuses.

Some of his other successes as dean include starting the College in a Day program for students to come to the campus and learn about higher education, the career day program at both campuses with the local Rotary clubs, STEAM Day for students in grades K-5 and hosting the Columbiana County Envirothon.

He’s especially proud of how everyone welcomed him as dean and he’s proud of the team he’s leaving behind.

“We got back in touch with the community,” he said. With the return to teaching comes the return to research, which Dees also looks forward to doing, including researching the impact of the Rising Scholars program. He’s also looking forward to studying how students learn and what that means for college teaching.

Even with the pandemic, the college continued to reinvest in the facilities and stay strong, to provide students with scholarships and quality programs. The college kept finding ways to persevere and keep costs down. There’s also been a focus on safety, with improvements to the physical space and safety and relationships with both the Salem and East Liverpool police departments. There’s also a full-time mental health counselor who covers both campuses.

“I always want people to know how great these campuses are,” he said.

Dees noted that students at the Salem and East Liverpool campuses get a quality Kent education, but with more personal attention in smaller classrooms at less cost closer to home. He’s loved being dean at the Columbiana County campuses, but said “it’s time for a new adventure.”

His wife, Jennifer, is a sixth-grade teacher at Southeast School in the Salem City School District. They have two daughters, Haley, an aerospace technology major at Kent State, and Katie, a sophomore at United High School.

Dees will still live in Columbiana County and is already working on the transition.

Brad Bielski, dean of the KSU Tuscarawas campus, will become interim dean at the Salem and East Liverpool campuses beginning Aug. 6 and continue serving at the Tuscarawas campus in New Philadelphia. He’s already been meeting with faculty and staff and the local advisory boards.



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