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Dean for a Day Diaries

On February 10, 2011, CHASS Dean Jeff Braden switched places with sophomore Communication major Sarah Hager. He took her classes (and her radio shift at WKNC). She spent the day in meetings with fellow deans, with college administrators and department heads, even with an Advisory Board member. Here are their reflections on the experience.

Dean for a Day Sarah Hager:

7:45am I arrived at Holladay Hall to begin may day as the Dean of College of Humanities and Social Sciences. I was very excited – and nervous – walking in to the Council of Deans’ meeting. I introduced myself to the heads of each college in the university, as well as to the Provost. They were all very welcoming. We heard from Dean Pascal Vidal, of the French business school SKEMA, who shared information about the new program on NC State’s campus. Provost Arden kept the meeting going smoothly. Throughout the meeting, the deans raised their concerns and questions. It was refreshing to see that even at that level, disagreements still happen. Everyone remained professional, though.

10:15 Next I met with Betty Byrum, the CHASS assistant dean of finance and business. She explained how the university and the college’s finances are run. I learned a lot. I had been under the impression that the majority of the financing came from tuition, which actually only accounts for about 18%.

11:45 After a break, I had lunch with Vicki Gallagher, CHASS Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. It was great to sit down one-on-one with someone and share my concerns about my college. We talked about what is effective and ineffective, as well as ideas for the future. I felt my input was valued. We bounced ideas off of each other about how to involve CHASS more campus-wide.

1:00 I attended the “Five Year Leadership and Program Review” that Vice Provost Louis Hunt hosted. It was interesting to see the ways the university recruits students and the academic standards held for the admission process.

3:00 – 5:00 Back-to-back meetings! First I met with Communication Department Head Dr. Ken Zagacki. As a communication major myself, meeting my department head was exciting. We talked about why I came to CHASS and what classes I’ve enjoyed the most so far. Next up was CHASS Advisory Board President Emily Barbour, who explained ways we try to involve alumni with CHASS. The Advisory Board promotes the welfare and development of CHASS through advocacy, fundraising, and service. It got me excited to reach an alumni status in the next few years. All the board members seem to have great careers with lots of Wolfpack love. Last but not least, I met with Associate Dean for Research, Extension, Engagement, and Economic Development (REED) Dr. Tom Birkland. Between Dean Braden’s airbreaks on WKNC (he was taking my shift at the radio station at this point of the afternoon), Dr. Birkland and I talked about the research, extension, engagement, and economic development awards process – and music.

5:15 After a long day, I met (the real) Dean Braden at Mitch’s Tavern – a favorite among students and faculty. We were both exhausted. I’m pretty sure we almost simultaneously said “I don’t know how you do it!” I think in the end that’s what an opportunity like this comes down to – an appreciation for both sides.

Student for a Day Jeff Braden

5:40 am – Alarm goes off; I wake up and begin working out.

6:12 am – I realize that I’ve been working out for about 30 minutes while listening to NPR and can’t remember a thing they’ve said. Remind myself that I’m a student today, so I can take extra time to stretch out (and clean the cat’s litter box). I smile as I get dressed — first time I’ve gone to campus on a weekday wearing jeans since last year’s dean for a day!

7:45 am – I leave the house 20 minutes later than normal and realize I’m still ahead of schedule. This is awesome … until I hit traffic. Not sure if it’s so bad because I’m leaving 20 minutes later than normal, or because it’s snowing. I hear the report on cacao prices and remember the stuff I was listening to while I worked out. Change the channel to jazz.

8:15 am – Get to campus and decide to take my usual parking space. I’m relieved that Sarah didn’t want to use it, as I probably wouldn’t have time to find another space. I head into class.

8:30 am – COM 257 class begins with instructor handing back exam and going over the answers. Discussion begins; I start taking notes so Sarah can know what we talked about.

9:45 am – Head to Global Village for coffee, feeling really energized. I just got out of my very first Communication class; if they are all this good, I feel like I should go back to school and major in it! The instructor did a great job of laying out information and then inviting discussion. There was a lot of give-and-take; I’m impressed!

10:15 am – Enter editing class and immediately take a test — but only after I am guaranteed that Sarah will get the chance to take it, too (the highest of the two scores will count towards her grade). I think I do pretty well inserting the appropriate editing marks, but I’ll have to wait to see my results! The discussion is, as it was in my first class, very lively. I’m really impressed with how students are engaged — as well as how funny and effective the instructor is at sustaining the discussion.

11:35 am – I enter ENG 416 about 10 minutes early to find everybody sitting in a circle having a lively discussion about current events and trying to guess which questions the instructor will ask. A number of students greet me as “Sarah.” They even tell me where she usually sits, so that I can be in the right seat. Instructor calls role; I answer for Sarah and instructor says, “Can’t fool me.” I take a news quiz about the stories the class was assigned to read; needless to say, I don’t do well. The specificity of the quiz surprises me; although I am aware of many of the events, the questions require exact responses rather than general ideas. Lisa Sorg, Editor at the Independent Weekly, then shares her background and some stories of her time as a beat reporter and (later) editor. The discussion is, once again, lively and animated (and once again, I’m impressed!).

12:45 pm – I head over with some of the guys from class to Mitch’s for lunch. I realize a photographer from the Technician is there to take pictures of me. We have another lively discussion; I try to push my point about the unwitting bias that’s built into reporting on public vs. private entities by the easy access to records via open records laws. My companions and the photographer sort of agree, but it’s clear I’m not gonna feel the love, so we begin to talk about other things. We all agree that the reporting in The Economist is among the best we’ve seen. I hurry over to Withers with one of my lunch-mates to prepare for my next class, COM 267.

1:30 pm – COM 267 is built around computer workstations; students log in to Moodle and much of the content is online (e.g., our quiz, assignments). All of the students whose monitors I can see are jumping back and forth between the class site and other Internet sites. There is less discussion in this class, which seems to be partly because of the orientation to the workstations, partly because the lecture summarizes the book chapter (the presentation even includes page numbers of each topic), and partly because students jump in and out of engagement. Still, the material is well organized, and clearly presented. Even though I have no background, I can easily follow the class topics and discussion.

2:50 pm – I walk over to Witherspoon in preparation for my shift on WKNC as co-host of an afternoon radio program. I head up to get familiar with the radio station before I go on the air.

3:30 pm – My co-host gives me a great tour of the station, explaining what she and Sarah (better known to WKNC listeners as Sarah-nade) typically do in a shift, and asks me about what I would like my DJ name to be. I ask if I can use “Dr. J” as a way of working my academic background and my love of great basketball (and yes, I still play—not well—over at Carmichael on occasion) into my on-air persona. I also confess to being a Beatles fan, and cringe at the thought of how hopelessly out of touch that sounds. Her response (“Oh, I love classic rock!”) both relieves and disturbs me—I’m relieved she knows the Beatles and likes their music, but I’m disturbed that I’m so old that the cutting-edge music of my youth is now considered “classic.”

4:04 pm – We go live on the air, and I have a ball. I learn to bleat “WKNC, 88.1 FM” in response to her “And you are listening to…” prompt. It only takes me a couple of tries; nice to know that an old dean can learn at least one new trick! The music is great, and it’s fun to have give-and-take on the air. We get a number of callers requesting music, but I’m especially thrilled when one of our college alumni (and former Advisory Board Chair) calls in to say he listens to WKNC all the time. Of course, he’s disappointed with the poor quality of Dr. J and pines for Sarah-nade’s return, but it’s good to get a shout out nonetheless.

5:12 pm – I head over to Mitch’s with two members of the Technician to meet Sarah and debrief after a long day. I’m still giddy with the excitement of the day, and fall all over myself telling Sarah about her classes. We both answer questions the folks from the Technician ask us, and I’m proud to brag on my faculty and my experience as a student for the day. Sarah is equally effusive about her day, although it’s pretty clear I had the better deal. I’m excited about our college, and grateful to have been able to look at it from a student’s point of view. I feel very, very lucky to be able to represent my colleagues, this college, and NC State. Go ‘Pack!


I am pleased to see a feature article in the Technician the following morning! I wince a little bit as I notice they didn’t use the pictures of me from lunch where I ordered a diet cola; instead, they show me sitting next to Sarah drinking a beer. At least it was after hours! A few spelling errors will undoubtedly give Sarah something to discuss in her journalism classes next week. Still, I’m indebted to the Technician for its coverage of the event, and for being so supportive. I also notice that just about every other dean has sent me an email recommending that I continue to send Sarah to future meetings, as she’s a much better spokesperson for the college than the current dean (i.e., me). Not for the last time, I envy Sarah and the life of a student!