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Interim dean and veteran educator Carolyn Nelson shares vision for CEAS


Carolyn Nelson (Photo: Erin Merdinger)

  • September 16, 2009

A background in teaching science, previous administrative experience at a California State University campus and a passion for preparing educators who can adapt to myriad classroom settings made Carolyn Nelson a natural choice as the interim dean for the College of Education and Allied Studies.

“It felt like a good fit for what the campus values, coupled with my experience in urban settings,’’ Nelson said.

She took over the position Aug. 1. As CEAS interim dean, she oversees a college that is home to 56 tenure-track faculty members in fields of study ranging from kinesiology to educational psychology.

“She has a wide range of K-12 and higher education experiences that give her the practical knowledge and understanding to lead CEAS in this difficult budget environment,’’ said Mike Mahoney, who served as provost when Nelson was appointed during the summer.

In her first month on the job, Nelson has concentrated on getting to know members of the college and university community and the administrative process.

“I see the role of the dean as someone who can create a climate in the college so faculty and students can thrive,” she said. “My challenge in the next couple of years will be to do that in an environment where resources are quite scarce.”

Nelson noted that she looks forward to building on the college’s existing strong foundation and working closely with members of other colleges.

“At this university, the colleges work closely together,” she said. “We’re open to approaching things in a more multidisciplinary fashion.

“When the College of Science writes a grant, they find someone in CEAS to help them, and vice versa,” Nelson said. “That’s a very healthy approach.”

Nelson served as associate dean in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education at San Jose State University from 2007 until earlier this year. She previously chaired the Department of Elementary Education at SJSU for seven years. Her service to SJSU began in 1990 when she joined the university as a lecturer, becoming an associate professor in 2000 and a professor in 2006. At SJSU, she taught courses including the “Sociology of Education” and “Science for an Inclusive Classroom.” Additionally, she spent 15 years teaching in K-12 systems in San Jose and in Illinois, Nebraska and New York.

Nelson earned an Ed.D. from the University of San Francisco in 1992 with major emphases on Organizational Change and Leadership, Crosscultural Communications and Science Education. She also received an M.A. from USF in 1984. Her B.S. is from the University of Nebraska, Omaha.

Dating from her initial experience as a student teacher, Nelson said she knew that education was the field for her. Her first job teaching seventh grade science and 10th grade biology in an inner city school in Rochester, N.Y., solidified her choice.

“It had made me want to get up early,” she said. “I couldn’t wait to get in the classroom, because it was such a creative endeavor.”

Today, her greatest passions are training future teachers to teach science and helping prepare educators to move from their own academic studies into the classroom ready to engage students — particularly those in urban settings — and teach content in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them.

“It’s not just the how-to,” she said. “You need to understand the impact of culture and language in how to keep kids engaged.”

Nelson’s goals as interim dean of CEAS also call for engaging leaders throughout the region and building partnerships between educators and members of the business sector.

“We have a great deal of expertise in the college,” she said. “A dean’s job is to recognize that and make it known to the community and to help corporate leaders see the important role the college of education plays in the community.”

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