By Gabrielle Fellows
Last month, the Board of Trustees appointed Wim Steelant dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Steelant currently serves as vice president of research and dean of science at St. Thomas University in Florida. He will take over for Interim Dean Gregg Sturrus on March 15.
Martin Abraham, provost of YSU, said Steelant’s overall experience helped him stand out.
“I also especially liked his diverse background,” Abraham said. “He actually has degrees from three different departments in our college: biology, chemical engineering and chemistry. So he understands interdisciplinary research and the challenges associated with working in multidisciplinary teams.”
Steelant said the strong connection between the College of STEM and the community was a major factor in his decision to apply.
“I was involved with the kids from kindergarten on [at my previous job] to show them that science was very awesome,” Steelant said. “That is similar to what I see in Youngstown.”
He was also impressed by YSU President Jim Tressel’s engagement with local leaders.
“The president drives the community. He goes to schools and engages the community and local industry and gives opportunities to students to do internships,” Steelant said. “It blew me away; it’s tremendous.”
Joseph Mosca, dean of the Bitonte College of Health and Human Services, served as chair of the search committee that selected finalists for the STEM dean position.
The committee was comprised of faculty, students, staff and community members as well as a member of the Board of Trustees.
The committee conducted multiple Skype interviews to narrow the search down to three candidates who visited campus. Mosca said they were impressed by Steelant.
“I believe he has a good understanding of the complexity and diverse needs of disciplines in the STEM College,” Mosca said. “I anticipate that his strong sense of enthusiasm and positive nature will contribute to his success as dean.”
Steelant said he is going to approach the situation by listening first, seeing what could be improved and collaborating with students and staff to improve the college as a team.
“Coming in [to this department] and saying that everything is broken is a big mistake,” Steelant said. “I’m not coming in with guns blazing.”
He said he wants to talk with the provost, his fellow deans and the professors, chairs, department heads and students about their experiences.
“I think my first step is listening. Let’s listen to what those hopes, dreams and disappointments are and figure out as a team what we can make changes to,” Steelant said. “It’s not me coming in and changing things drastically; it’s a team effort.”
He also said a major focus will be improving the quality of the students’ education — with an emphasis on communication.
“United we’re strong, alone we’re nothing. I can’t do anything without my faculty and without the students’ wishes,” Steelant said. “I usually have open door policy so that faculty and students can come in and chat.”
He also stressed the importance of internships in strengthening a student’s education.
“I want to help the students gain value with their degree,” Steelant said. “Send them away to internships, set them up with local businesses, give them the best opportunity to gain experience so that when they graduate their degree is really powerful.”