John Stein Named Dean of Students

After an extensive search, Interim Dean of Students John Stein has been asked to make his post a permanent one. Stein had been serving as interim dean for more than six months. Earlier this month, he was named assistant vice president and dean of students.

Stein came to Tech in 2002 as the director of Success Programs. When former dean of students Gail DiSabatino left Tech earlier this year, he was asked to serve until a successor could be found. When it became clear to the search committee that its national search was not yielding the results it had hoped for, the focus was switched to an internal search. Stein put his name forward.

"John received tremendous support from students, faculty and staff during the process and that will be invaluable as he undertakes many important student life initiatives and programs in his new role," said William Schafer, vice president for Student Affairs. "I believe he can become another great dean of students in the series of outstanding individuals that have held this important position at Tech. I am delighted he is joining our Student Affairs team as the dean of students and look
forward to working with him."

"I see it as my mission to carry on historical legacy and good work the former deans have done over time," said Stein. In researching his new post, Stein recognized that previous deans had made it their mission to focus on a particular student need that wasn't being met.

"Floyd Field focused on the Greeks, [George] Griffin established the fund to help students who were experiencing some crisis or emergency and needed help to get them through it, [James] Dull worked on integration and DiSabatino helped Tech meet the needs of women," said Stein. "I'm still formulating the areas I want to focus on."

One area of need that Stein is working to meet is that of Tech's sophomore students. "We need to place more focus on sophomore year," he said. "We do a great job with freshman experience, but sophomore year is a transition year. They're low on the totem pole: last to get housing, last to get courses, not as much support from the administration. We do so much for them in the freshman year, sophomores say that the second year is the first time they have to navigate Tech on their own."

Finding Common Ground

But perhaps the biggest challenge is Stein's desire to work with faculty to create bridges from student life to academic life. One area where that's sorely needed, he said, is in improving the quality of life and promoting intellectual discussion outside of the classroom.

"Tech students are the brightest population of students I've worked with and they have tremendous potential to transform Tech and the world beyond, but if something is absent on this campus it's dialogue," he said. "We have such a multifaceted student body, that at times the students don't know how to talk to each other and don't know how to talk with people who are different from them."

One of the central questions Stein has challenged himself to answer, he said is "how do we maximize student involvement, given that Tech has such a range of cultures, beyond a way that's superficial?"

It's a difficult job, he admitted. After sitting in on a number of classes, Stein said he realized that Tech is very good at imparting intellectual knowledge into its students through the standard lecture format. But one thing students don't get a lot of practice doing at Tech is in dealing with ambiguities. Creating that bridge between student life and academic life will supplement the education they get in the classroom and better prepare them for life beyond Tech, he said.

"They're used to information flowing one way, from the professor to the student. They're not used to having an exchange of information and that can make it hard for them to deal with situations in which there isn't just one right answer," Stein said.
"One engineering student told me he has difficulty in situations where he can't plug in numbers and get an answer. But through his work in student organizations, he has learned to deal with situations where he can't plug in a number - where he has to deal with ambiguities."

Working with students to get them to initiate discussion is the key to helping Tech improve in these areas. A prime example of that, he said, is the Finding Common Ground series.

After a series of speech incidents involving student groups and a lawsuit against Tech by two of students, the students decided they wanted to find a way in which they could better understand each other. As a result, a variety of student organizations, with the support of the administration, have developed what they hope is a first step in promoting civility and intellectual discussion on campus.

Consisting of a series of dialogues among students and culminating with an address by poet Maya Angelou on Nov. 15 in the coliseum, Finding Common Ground is an attempt by the students to learn how to be comfortable when dealing with their differences and engage in discussion and disagreements constructively. Stein has been instrumental in working with students to get this series off the ground.

"The best solutions arise when students initiate things and have the support of the administration, said Stein. "It's my job to help them do that."

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.