Behind the Scenes: Deans facilitate student success

Gillian Murphy, top, tediously multitasking to get the day’s work finished. PHOTO BY KRISTEN RIEDEL

On the first day of school, thousands of students enter classrooms on the Delta College campus without a thought as to how the classes were scheduled, rooms assigned and supplied, and teachers provided to open the doors to higher learning.

Gillian Murphy, top, tediously multitasking to get the day’s work finished. PHOTO BY KRISTEN RIEDEL
Gillian Murphy, top, tediously multitasking to get the day’s work finished. PHOTO BY KRISTEN RIEDEL

The deans who do this work, and more, have little scheduled daily interaction with students, but their contributions to our education are foundational enough to be invisible, and there would be no school without them.

“We need to make sure, first of all, that we’re offering the appropriate classes for students, so students can complete certificates and degrees, and students can get jobs,” said Gillian Murphy, Dean of Applied Science, Business and Technology.

Murphy, a native of Dublin, Ireland, is a believer in lifelong learning who achieved her MBA in her 40s at St. Mary’s College in Moraga.

“I’m all about the fact that we’re here in an economy that needs to have a trained workforce and part of the way we get that is for students to come and get skills, no matter what their age,” said Murphy.

Choosing what classes to offer also involves making sure that all of the classes needed for a degree are not offered only on the same day at the same time.

“As a student, you’re going to be taking a chem class and you’re going to take a history class, so we’ve got to make sure there is availability for both of those between our divisions,” said Dr. Steven Graham Ed.D., Division Dean of Humanities, Social Science, Education, Kinesiology and Athletics.

Graham began his career as an academic advisor at Delta in 1990, where he met his wife and had two children who both now teach here.

“I think it’s the beacon of the community, so I’m totally a Delta Mustang all the way,” said Graham.

“Each of the divisions has classrooms that are assigned to them and that they schedule in,” said Graham.

Deans must match the needs of a class with the supplies in a room, while adding the final variable of an instructor.

“Deans work with the administration on screening and hiring faculty, evaluating faculty, and addressing student needs,” said Murphy.

Once an instructor has been hired, a dean’s job isn’t over.

“By contract, faculty members have to be evaluated once every three years; a formal evaluation. I’ve got over 150 faculty, that’s basically 40 evaluations a semester,” said Graham.

Each evaluation includes observing the instructor as he or she teaches class, reviewing the curriculum, conducting student surveys and having meetings to discuss all of the results.

“It’s an honor to be in the position, but it’s also a very demanding position,” said Murphy.

Graham enjoys the time-consuming process because he is inspired by the passion of the teachers, and the methods they use to engage the students in learning.

“Our population is so diverse, and that’s what makes it really difficult to teach, because of the diversity of the issues that are out there,” said Graham.

That challenging part of being a dean at a community college is also one of its greatest rewards.

“I love the buzz on campus. I love when students come back to class. I love talking to students. It’s great to talk to enthusiastic students, but it’s also great to talk to students and help them build their enthusiasm,” said Murphy.