New CCFA dean plans collaboration across disciplines


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Dean Janet Hethorn poses in her office for a portrait on Oct. 22, 2015.

With a "big picture" mindset, the new dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts has plans of collaborating across disciplines, within the community and even internationally.

Before she was hired as dean this year, Janet Hethorn was the director of the Delaware Design Institute. Hethorn says she isn't afraid to cross boundaries to make change happen.

The different academic programs that fall under CCFA are Art and Design, Broadcast and Cinematic Arts, Communication and Dramatic Arts, Music, Journalism, Integrative Public Relations, Music Theatre and Media Design, Production and Technology.

Central Michigan Life asked Hethorn what she hopes to achieve as a leader of the college.

You used to be a professor at Delaware Institute of Design. Do you have any plans of teaching at CMU?

“It’s certainly possible. I imagine there will be a point where I can run a graduate seminar or undergraduate workshop, things like that.

I was teaching mostly design theory. I taught a really fun class I enjoyed a lot, called 'Seeing and Being.' It’s a visual literacy and problem solving (class). It was a large class of students who came from different colleges and worked together in teams to identify and self design problems. So I’m really about process.”

The different subsets under CCFA vary a lot. Does this make your job hard, having to manage such a broad field of study?

“That’s what attracted me here, to me it all connects. We’re all about telling stories, about creative process and telling stories, it doesn’t matter how its actualized. So to me there is a real core, and it’s a very unique core that not many universities have.”

What qualities do you have that will help you as dean?

“I do think that I have strong leadership and creative skills and the ability to work with a number of people and perspectives. I think that cross disciplinary experience I have is a draw, (and) sort of underlines my success and potential.”

Have you worked directly with CCFA students yet? Do you think that's important?

“I’ve been working on getting up and running but I certainly enjoy working with students and would like to work with them especially as we develop with collaboration and research.”

A lot of colleges stress the importance of undergraduate research with professors, is that something you think should be done in CCFA?

“I do think that the undergraduate experience can be much broader when it is infused (with) research skills. it's good for the faculty as well to work with young minds that want to learn how to investigate and whether it’s a creative process, scholarly article or working side by side with a production team, there’s a lot of thought that can happen with undergraduate scholarship and research opportunities and working with faculty.”

What are some goals you hope to achieve as dean?

“I’m really interested in connecting our students externally, outside the campus, through community engagement kinds of activities. I’d like to see more of our students involved internationally within various programs. Our college has pretty amazing programs that have application and relevance beyond our perceived borders.”

Have you faced any challenges so far?

“When new ideas (and) ways of doing things are discussed, there’s always that response of ‘we’ve always done it that way.’ However, the people who I’ve been working with, when there’s an excitement about seeing a new vision or new path, seem ready to move in new directions.”

Explain your past experiences of working at a university. 

“We did a whole series of showcases of all of the different design projects going on around campus. We looked at design and social impact, things like that. We had contests for students to work in teams to solve problems.”

How do you plan on executing and achieving your goals as dean?

“I’m not interested in coming in and saying ‘we’re doing things this way,’ — I’m interested in learning about what people's expertise and interests are and maximizing those things. I am definitely interested in building teams across boundaries.”

Do you have any strategies for funding new programs and projects?

“I’m definitely looking forward to working with development and expanding our funding base beyond the college. I plan to work with our offices here, with corporate and foundation funding, certainly with our CCFA development office. You can't just put your hand out and say 'I need this or that.' You have (to tell a story) that resonates with people who are interested in supporting it.”

What do you think about new technology and its importance in the college?

“They’re all tools, but they’re important tools and they’re going to change quickly.”

Do you think it inhibits students at all when they have to choose a major?

“The problems of today’s world don’t live within disciplines. I think it's important that students feel a certain amount of depth in a discipline, but as they're growing that depth they need to also build teams and be able to have other kinds of skills.

There aren’t too many careers out there that are forever.

Definitely people want to be in a field and have an identity, but the ability to cross those perceived barriers is really important. I'd think it would be better if we didn’t have those barriers. If we had interest and expertise, then we can work with others to create what you want to create.”

Why did you choose to go into administration?

“I’ve been a scholar my whole life, and an educator. I really enjoy working in the studio and I like writing. I like all of those things, but I have found over the years that I have an interest in taking those activities in a broader context, of mentoring and facilitating sort of action with others. So its always a trade off, where you spend your time."

Have you developed a CCFA strategic plan? What does that entail?

“It’s very new. I’ve been here for two months now, so it's difficult to say what our plans are yet. Strategic planning is a process of figuring out where we are going together and then resources and support go behind that to create the world that you all envision, that’s what strategic planning is.”

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About Kate Carlson

Editor-in-Chief Kate Carlson is a senior from Lapeer who is majoring in journalism with a minor in ...

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