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A Day in a Different Life: Dean for a Day

Social work student Caterina Schenck was more than prepared to step into the Dean’s shoes for a day, but she didn’t imagine her first task would be so daunting. Schenck stepped boldly into the role as leader of  NC State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences by first attending a session with North Carolina’s top movers and shakers. She met with the head of the UNC System, the governor of North Carolina, key legislators and statewide leaders who gathered for an important education summit.

Dean for a Day Caterina Schenck stands with Tom Ross, president of the UNC system, and NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson.
Dean for a Day Caterina Schenck stands with Tom Ross, president of the UNC system, and NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson.

“I thought this would be a great way to start Dean Schenck’s tenure as Dean for a Day,” says Jeff Braden, who serves as dean of the college on other days. “I felt it would give her the opportunity to learn about some big issues–and meet some VIPs.”

The rest of Dean Schenck and student Braden’s switched schedules proved equally interesting and enlightening to them both. Braden attended Schenck’s classes and volunteered at the Red Cross while the new dean attended meetings, met with several department heads, and even attended a retirement party.  Here are their personal recollections from the day, edited for brevity and clarity.

Student Jeffery Braden’s Log

Dinner at La Shish 6:15 p.m.

  • After the Education Summit Caterina and I decide to head to one of my favorite Middle Eastern restaurants for an early dinner. Over a Lebanese platter, I learn about her life and realize it was a lot more challenging than my own. Better understanding the issues she faced deepens my appreciation of her ability to succeed in school and in her work. Her long-term goals (to get her BSW in Social Work and join the Air Force) strike me as remarkably similar to my father’s life; he served in the Army Air Corps in WWII (there was no Air Force at that time) and then had a career as a social worker with the Veteran’s Administration.
  • During our conversation, I broach the issue of friends at NC State. Caterina is frank: She doesn’t have a lot of friends in her classes, as she tells me she’s focused on academics, not socializing, when she goes to campus. However, she does share with me that her best friends are online; indeed, she is planning to fly to the West Coast over Spring Break to meet some of them face-to-face for the first time. I marvel at how utterly different my college experience was. Although I too was a reasonably serious student, college was my life–and since we had no computers, phones, or other media that didn’t involve direct person-to-person communications, the only friends I had were ones I had seen face-to-face. It’s a brave new world … and I’m not entirely sure I’d be comfortable in it.

Waking up isn’t hard to do: Staying asleep is! 5:32 a.m.

  • When I went to bed, I smiled to myself as I turned off my alarm. After all, my first obligation as a student for the day was to appear at class in Park Shops at 11:20 a.m. So, instead of my usual waking up at 5:30 a.m. so that I could finish my exercises, read the paper, and get in to work by 8:00 a.m., I relished the thought of sleeping in.
  • You can imagine my disappointment when my eyes opened and I turned to the clock to see: 5:34 a.m. I pulled up the covers, closed my eyes, but finally accepted the fact I was awake and crawled out of bed at 6:20. Sigh … when I was young, waking up was hard. Now sleeping in is impossible!
  • Even though I am unable to sleep in, I am able to enjoy a few things I normally don’t: light coming in the windows while I work out; Frank DeFord’s piece on NPR; and sipping coffee and reading the paper with my wife. Normally, I’m out of the house before she’s even awake; this is a treat I wish I could enjoy every day.

Class Bound: 10:55 a.m. Anthropology 252 with Raja Abillama

  • Getting to class is smooth, and I find myself seated outside in the hallway a good 20 minutes before class starts. I head in to get a seat well before the professor arrives. Once again, I’m really pleased to have the opportunity to sit in class and listen as an expert walks me through his or her area of expertise. Happily, the topic today (the intersection of language and culture) is one that, at one point in my life, occupied a lot of my interest.

Red Cross: 12:34 p.m.

  • I arrive at the Red Cross. Barry Potter, the director, welcomes me into his office. We talk for a bit–and by “We talk,” I mean “I listen.” I’m fascinated to learn what the Red Cross does, and compare it to what I think it does. As a regular apheresis donor for more than three decades, I’m quite familiar with their blood services; as a person who has seen a fair number of humanitarian tragedies over the years, I’m also familiar with their emergency relief efforts. What I didn’t know was that every time there’s a fire in North Carolina, it’s not only the fire department that shows up: a team from the Red Cross is there, quietly offering shelter, food, clothing, and the emotional and financial support families need in crisis. What’s even more amazing to me is that it happens four times a day in the eastern half of our state. As a psychologist, I often teach my classes about the “availability heuristic,” which leads people to believe that events that get wide media coverage (i.e., are psychologically “available”) are more common than those that do not. Because a fire in an individual house or apartment rarely gets the attention of a hurricane or tornado, it’s easy to assume that the Red Cross responds to big disasters more often than small ones but it’s clear that’s not the case. I remind myself that the tragedy of losing a home happens many times every day, and I resolve to be sure to take that lesson to heart.
  • The Pillowcase Project teaches children disaster preparedness.  “I'm proud to pose with a pillowcase that illustrates the great work by our Dean for a Day," Braden said.
    The Pillowcase Project teaches children disaster preparedness. “I’m proud to pose with a pillowcase that illustrates the great work by our Dean for a Day,” Braden said.

    I’m given a tour of the facility, and shown the outstanding work that Caterina does on the Pillowcase Project. Because they noticed children in crisis frequently carried their possessions in their pillowcases, the Red Cross proposed (and Disney funded) a project to teach children disaster preparedness by having them plan what they’d put in a pillowcase in the event of an emergency. Caterina has already prepared 800 workbooks and 700 pillowcases for distribution.

  • The tour of the facility concludes with a meeting in which the staff propose an internship between NC State and the Red Cross. They want a steady stream of interns who will be trained to work with families who lose their homes and their possessions to fire, and provide them with support and stability. This sounds like a great opportunity to realize our university’s motto: Think and Do. I ask them to follow up with me when I get back to the office and my duties as dean!

D.H. Hill Library: 3:45 p.m.

  • I take a few minutes catch up with my journaling, and send pictures of my day before my last class. Thank goodness for mobile technologies!

Class bound: 4:25 p.m. Social Welfare Policy 307 with Hannah Allison

  • I’m the first one to enter the classroom, but others quickly stream in behind me. They expect me, and many introduce themselves. The instructor begins with a format familiar to me as a psychologist; checking in, breathing, and clearing the mind to focus on the class ahead.
  • Our first task is to define the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). I feel a little weird; I remember when it first passed Congress (during the Nixon administration), but I’d forgotten that it was signed into law by Ronald Regan. I enjoy the assignment, as I’ve always thought of it as one of the few social welfare programs that enjoyed (at least, until recently) support from conservatives and liberals. That conservatives no longer support it is an indication of how far to the right politics have shifted since the 70s and 80s… but now I’m just feeling old. All too soon, I realize I need to leave to get to a dinner that requires me to be a dean, not a student. So with a heavy heart, I bid adieu to the class and to my annual day of being a student.

Dean Caterina Schenck’s Log

Dean’s Suite, Caldwell Hall – Arrival and Office Setup: 8:00 a.m.

  • The dean’s administrative team welcomed me and explained the roles each member plays related to finance, research, student services and more. I had not really imagined all of the complicated parts that make up the College of Humanities and Social Sciences—I did not know there were so many different behind-the-scenes positions.

1911 Building – Meet with Department Head of Social Work: 9:30 a.m.

Schenck's second meeting occurred in the 1911 building with Dept. Head of Social Work Karen Bullock.  After their meeting Schenck says,"it was truly a pleasure to meet with her."
Schenck’s second meeting occurred in the 1911 building with Dept. Head of Social Work Karen Bullock. After their meeting Schenck says,”it was truly a pleasure to meet with her.”
  • I met with my department head Karen Bullock, who was very pleased and impressed with the switch. She rushed me through the department offices, introducing me to each person available. I say “rushed” because she was trying to introduce me to everyone she could before our time ran out. She was very excited to have me as a representative for the Social Work department. It was truly a pleasure to meet with her—until now I had not had the opportunity. She informed me that I was the first social work student to serve as Dean for a Day.

Harrelson Hall: 10:30 a.m.

  • I met with Dr. Woody Catoe, Associate Director in the CDC (Career Development Center). He explained to me the resources and events they provide for students, even those who know what they want to be when they grow up. The CDC does more than help students figure out their futures. I was unaware of all that is offered at the CDC and I was very impressed by the thorough process—resumes, interviewing, organizing time and schedules, internships, and even current job listings are part of what the CDC offers. It is impressive to me because it’s more than just “career development”—it’s life development. The CDC even has an alumni program for students who have already graduated.

Development Office, Cox Hall:  11:00 a.m.

  • Next I met with the college’s Development staff. This team works on fundraising for the college. Fundraising, donations and gifts are essential to the college. For each donation or gift the college receives, an individualized and personal thank-you letter is written. This office organizes an annual luncheon for scholarship students within the college to meet – and thank – the donors who made those scholarships possible. I found this rather striking. I imagine it’s unusual for both parties to be introduced in such a way that focuses on the reality and lives involved with generosity and appreciation. On one hand, you have a group of people who want to provide students with an opportunity, who willingly give to strangers. On the other hand you have a group of students who might not even be in school if not for the donations and gifts that make up those scholarships. I imagine it is humbling for both sides.

Park Alumni Center — Lunch with Advisory Board Members: noon

  • For lunch I met with a few members of the college advisory board. These ladies were very intriguing with their enormously different personalities. They explained a little to me about what they do for the college and some of the topics they advise the dean on. We dined at the Park Alumni Center on Centennial Campus. Until today I did not know NC State had such a building. It was similar to dining in an expensive hotel.

Holladay Hall — Meet with NC State Vice Chancellor and Dean for Academic and Student Affairs: 2:00 p.m.

  • Next, I met with Mike Mullen, the university’s dean for academic and student affairs. With the help of some charts and PowerPoint slides, he explained the financial side of the college to me. This included annual income (through the state, donations, gifts, tuition, etc), and how it is spent. It was great to have the college’s finances thoroughly explained to me, as many students, including myself, are generally unaware of exact numbers/percentages/spending/budget/etc. A lot of the time students mistakenly assume how tuition is spent or why it is so seemingly high—even for in-state candidates. Having the opportunity to learn about the financial component really put expenses into perspective for me. Other than salaries for professors, we students do not think about the rest of the list that makes up the university’s spending.

Winslow Hall — Retirement Party 3:00 p.m.

  • Hilda Renfrow has been the chancellor’s executive assistant and has worked at NC State for 19 years. I felt lucky to get to attend her retirement party. It was relaxing to have a break from running around to meetings, even if it was only for 30 minutes. Hilda was very sweet and informed me she has plans to travel (her party was Vegas-themed). I signed her going away picture, which will be framed. She was very well liked and admired by many faculty members.

Caldwell Hall — Student Services/Academic Affairs Meeting: 3:45 p.m.

  • Back to the office, but not done with meetings. I met with Dara Leeder, Director of Recruitment and Retention, and Joe Johnson, Student Diversity Coordinator. We discussed community outreach, advertising, and a few other things. The college does not really have the man-power to network and advertise. Joe and Dara explained that using the acronym CHASS is problematic since most people outside of the college do not know what CHASS stands for. So the college is working on changing to just “Humanities and Social Sciences.” Even after I started school here, I was not entirely sure what it stood for until a few months into my first semester. My perspective, which I commented on, was not that the acronym is a problem; but rather the lack of advertising. I suggested that students, for example, could return to their old high schools and speak about the college during an assembly.

Caldwell Hall — Meet with the Director of Communication: 4:30 p.m.

  • I carried these thoughts into my meeting with Lauren Kirkpatrick, the Director of Communication. I told her that I have looked for items to purchase that represented the college and I only found one rather boring t-shirt. I suggested that if more items were available to students, such as car window emblems and clothing that was specifically for our college, it might help outsiders know and understand who we are. Following the meeting, Lauren gave me a Humanities and Social Sciences t-shirt (not the one available through the university’s bookstore that I found previously) and a magnet. I appreciate these items as a student because I have pride in my college and would like the opportunity to present that pride to others who are not involved or known to the school.

Compiled and edited by Katie McCreary, communication intern. To be included in the Department of Social Work 2015 Newsletter.