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Keeping It Going

Written by Mike Thee
September 11, 2012

Bob Hughes began as interim dean of the College of Education last month. No stranger to the position, Hughes previously held deanships at South Seattle Community College and Highline Community College.

Still, the associate professor and director of adult education and training was at first somewhat reluctant to take on the appointment. His plate was already quite full, especially with some new initiatives in adult education as well as the recent launch of a new distance-learning program for community college professors. At the same time, Hughes was reminded that everyone in the college was busy, and so when asked by the provost, Hughes agreed to serve as interim dean.

Any initial reservations Hughes may have had about his new position seem to have long since disappeared. Assessing the current state of the college, Hughes said, "There's a sense-and you've got to give Dean Sue Schmitt credit for this-that the College of Education is solvent and solidly footed. We've hired just amazing people. She has brought it to the point that something exciting is about to happen, and we are poised to do work that I don't know any other institution in our area is ready to do. I'm thrilled to keep us moving forward so that when the next dean arrives, we're ready for that moment."

Indeed, Hughes sees his role as so much more than simply treading water or keeping the seat warm for his successor, who is expected to be in place by next summer. He points to two key initiatives for the college this year: Middle College and the newly reinvented doctoral program.

Middle College is a partnership with Seattle Public Schools through which a high school is literally taking up residence in the College of Education. The idea is that by attending high school on our campus, students will be more inclined to set their sights on a college education. The program, which begins this year under the directorship of Charisse Cowan Pitre, is intended to be especially influential for students who would be the first in their families to attend college. Faculty and staff in the college will mentor the high school teachers. Hughes sees opportunities for all involved. "Being on a university campus has all kinds of benefits to the students, to the teachers of [the high school] as well as the College of Education's faculty and staff. It's just a wonderful ecology." 

Hughes is equally enthusiastic about the reinvented doctoral program, which, he said, "moved away from being a single program in a single department to being owned by the entire college. This is a big deal-getting the entire college to agree on this program is a testament to Dean Schmitt's skill as an administrator and to the commitment of the college to doing this work." The program, which launched this summer, "will require a lot of nurturing and support," he added.

Hughes has been at SU for five years. "What got me here was our adult education program, which is one of only two in the state of Washington (the other is at Western Washington). We have this rare thing in our midst that is an incredible treasure to the university and this community."

In addition to his extensive efforts in adult education, the interim dean has also spearheaded "Supporting New Faculty Success," a distance-learning program for community college instructors just starting out in their careers. He explained the value of the program this way: "If you are a community college instructor, you are hired for your content knowledge-so if you're hired to teach math, you have at least a master's or a doctorate in math. That doesn't mean that you know how to teach that content. And the struggle right now for community colleges is how do they retain and support the most diverse student body in higher education and ensure their success." The program got started this year with a cohort of 12 community college instructors, and based on feedback Hughes is receiving from administrators at the colleges, the initiative is already improving the participants' teaching effectiveness.

Asked what he likes to do in his seemingly ever-diminishing free time, Hughes spoke of a studio he's installing behind his house, which he's hoping to finish in the next few months. "I do a lot of cerebral work (in the college). I like to work with my hands when I'm not here. Pounding nails and drilling things and getting out the chainsaw-at the end of the day I can look and see something physically has changed. Some people say, 'Oh, you must be a Renaissance man,' but I'm not particularly good at [doing home improvements]," he said, laughing. "It's just something that I enjoy."

And why is he building the studio?

"So that I can go out and make music. I've been playing music since I was 10 years old (mainly brass instruments and blues harp). It's a very important part of my life."