Dr. Cynthia Lester is interim dean of Georgia State University’s Perimeter College, one of the largest associate-degree-granting colleges in the nation.
As interim dean, Lester is the executive officer for the college and is responsible for academic, administrative, research and service functions. The interim dean reports to the senior vice president for academic affairs and provost of Georgia State University and is responsible for visionary, innovative leadership and effective administration of the college. Perimeter College offers five campuses servicing metropolitan Atlanta—Alpharetta, Clarkston, Decatur, Dunwoody and Newton County. It also offers an extensive online program that is one of the largest of any college in the University System of Georgia.
Before assuming the role as interim dean in February 2022, Lester was senior associate dean for academic affairs. She was responsible for leading all college academic initiatives, including academic proposal review, assessment and accreditation; new pathway development; and curriculum development, review, revision, and implementation. Lester also led faculty and administrative searches, supervised and evaluated department chairs, chaired the department chairs council, and served as the academic initiative’s team facilitator.
Lester previously served as associate dean of the Division of Math, Computer Science and Engineering (MCSE) and associate dean of Georgia State’s Clarkston Campus. As associate dean of MCSE, she provided college-wide leadership and management oversight for the disciplines and the division of about 100 faculty and staff members and 2,200 pathway students across five campuses and online. As the associate dean of the Clarkston Campus, she provided oversight for one of the most culturally diverse campuses in the University System of Georgia, enrolling more than 4,500 students from more than 140 countries each semester.
Before assuming the associate dean’s role in 2018, Lester served as the founding chair of the newly formed Computer Science and Engineering department at Perimeter College. As chair, she grew the department in faculty hires; faculty scholarship increased by 150 percent; the number of students pursuing the computer science pathway grew from 900 to 1200; and she secured $50,000 from external donors to support student scholarships and national conference participation.
Lester joined Perimeter College in 2012 as the founding executive director of the STEM Initiatives Office. During this time, she helped secure and manage more than $3.5 million dollars to support the college’s faculty, students, and K-12 partnerships used to expand the science, technology, engineering and math pipeline by improving student success in STEM fields and increasing the number of students prepared for and enrolled in STEM degree programs.
Lester is a professor of computer science with areas of expertise in software engineering and human computer interaction. Her work has been supported by numerous grants and has appeared in peer-reviewed journals and international conference proceedings. Most recently, her work has focused on computer science and engineering education research and sustainable programs that broaden participation.
She is an International Academy, Research, and Industry Association Fellow and has been a White House invitee discussing STEM Inclusion. Lester holds professional memberships in the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). She was also named an IAspire Fellow in the inaugural cohort of the 2019-2020 National Science Foundation-funded Aspire Alliance’s Institutional Change Network (IChange) IAspire Leadership Academy. She was a 2021 EAB Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellow.
Why is this taking place?
Perimeter’s mission is higher education access, and for the students we serve, academic success. Over the past year, I have gotten to know the College and many of you as I engaged with you in conversations about our College and its strengths and opportunities. The associate deans and I discussed how our senior academic structure supports student success. This led us to the big question: is this structure the best set up for the College?
How did you come up with the various areas under the new structure?
There were several layers to get to this structure. First, many of the associate deans were doing some of the work in their new role already. However, their efforts were contained to their academic area or campus location. When the consultant visited, she noted that these efforts had the potential to benefit the entire college and questioned why we were not using this capacity more efficiently. Upon receiving her report, I charged the associate deans to offer ideas about the functional areas where we needed more capacity. I give credit to them for coming up with the structure that we will be implementing.
What is the new structure and what roles will each of the Associate Deans hold? What will they do under this new structure?
There were several layers to get to this structure. First, many of the associate deans were doing some of the work in their new role already. However, their efforts were contained to their academic area or campus location. When the consultant visited, she noted that these efforts had potential to benefit the entire college and questioned why we were not using this capacity more efficiently. Upon receiving her report, I charged the associate deans to offer ideas about the functional areas where we needed more capacity. I give credit to them for coming up with the structure that we will be implementing.
|Academic Affairs||Cynthia Lester||Responsible for leading all academic initiatives within the college, including enrollment, course planning, course staffing, scheduling, and overseeing accreditation|
|Faculty Affairs||Pamela Moolenaar-Wirsiy||Oversees faculty development initiatives within the college, serves as lead for diversity initiatives, oversees governance processes within the college, heads P&T processes, oversees CETL|
|External Relations||Otto Burianek||Leads workforce development initiatives within the college, creates strategic partnerships with external partners to further academic opportunities and student learning|
|Strategic Initiatives||Karen Wheel-Carter||Leads the strategic planning process and initiatives, including Dean’s Fellows and Seed Grant programs, and works to bring external opportunities into the structure of the college|
|Global Affairs||Laurent Ditmann||Oversees global and international initiatives within the college including study abroad, visiting faculty, and international week initiatives|
|Research/ST||Paulos Yohannes||Responsible for taking the lead with research, scholarship initiatives for faculty, collaborates with Perimeter grant team, oversees IRB processes, oversees STEM-related initiatives|
|Honors||Lauri Goodling||Leads Honors College at Perimeter including course offerings, recruitment for teaching faculty, working with the JKC scholars, and student leadership and scholarship programs|
|Student Success||Charles Fox||Leads student success initiatives that are implemented at Perimeter including Momentum Year, G2C, PEP, Frontier Set|
|Finance and Administration||Jamie Smith||Oversees budget, facilities, HR, IT and Grants & Financial compliance for the college|
When did this change take place?
July 1, 2020.
How and why will this improve student outcomes?
There were many positive initiatives focused on student success that do not fall under any associate dean in the current structure. As an example, Georgia State University President Mark Becker discussed the importance of considering workforce development issues in higher education, yet we did not have a good structure for bringing opportunities into the college. With our new structure, the Associate Dean for External Relations will be the point person to develop opportunities in this area. A second example is international/global issues. We have a tremendous amount of excellent work in this area, yet it was not centralized. As a result, we had campus-based or academic-based activities, but no one in a leadership role who was centralizing this process to further instruction and student learning. The new functional model allows our organizational structure to be more nimble and responsive to initiatives that are external and within the university that can improve student learning and outcomes.
Will there be any new individuals in the associate dean role? Will the current associate dean for my division be replaced with a new associate dean for my division?
This is a strategic realignment, so the same individuals who are associate deans will remain in this role. Going forward there will not be associate deans assigned to academic divisions. The academic division model will be removed from our organizational structure: the various academic departments will be managed on a college-wide basis by their department chair, and they will be overseen by the associate dean of academic affairs.
Will previous associate deans for divisions be replaced with a new associate dean for that division?
This is a strategic realignment, so the same individuals who are associate deans are remaining in this role. Going forward there will not be associate deans assigned to academic divisions. The academic division model will be removed from our organizational structure: the various academic departments will be managed on a college-wide basis by their department chair, and they will be overseen by the associate dean of academic affairs.
Will there still be associate deans on each campus? What will they do?
At a minimum, the office of one associate dean will be located on each campus That associate dean will still serve leadership roles for the college as required at that location. For example, associate deans will be on call to provide welcomes for various programs, greet high-level visitors to campus, and serve as the Dean’s representative in that location. More importantly, in their new roles, the associate deans will focus on their core areas of the academic mission and how to strengthen and carry out the goals evenly across all five campuses.
What will they not be doing in the future?
The associate deans will not be responsible for the daily functioning of the physical campus. All of the important activities such as ongoing maintenance, cleaning, landscaping, identification of facilities issues and problems, public safety, etc., will be handled by the appropriate departments under the leadership of the Finance and Administration Division.
How will facilities and maintenance requests/issues/emergencies be coordinated in the absence of campus responsibilities for associate seans?
Routine maintenance matters should be reported to facilities management If it is a health or safety emergency, you should always contact Georgia State University Police Department at 404-413-3333. Emergency maintenance matters should be reported to (404) 413-0700 and to the Assistant Dean for Finance and Administration. All requests to modify a space, regardless of scope, should be submitted to Vincent Payne, Perimeter College facilities officer.
How will the reporting line for academic chairs be structured?
Since much of the work that the academic chairs do interfaces with the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, the reporting lines will be directly to Associate Dean Cynthia Lester. There will continue to be monthly academic chairs meetings that will include the Dean. The process for promotion/tenure, pre- and post-tenure reviews will go from the academic chairs to the Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs.
Under our current structure, we have academic departments and divisions. Will this continue under the new structure?
We will only have departments under the new structure. Under the current structure, the college was divided into large divisions that were headed by an associate dean. For example, we had an Associate Dean of the Science Division over the two departments of Life and Earth Sciences and Physical Sciences. We had an Associate Dean of the Social Science Division over the two departments of History and Political Science and Cultural and Behavior Science.
In the new structure, we will no longer have academic “divisions,” but will be organized at the department level. For example, there will be the Department of History and Political Science, the Department of Cultural Sciences, the Department of Life and Earth Sciences, and the Department of Physical Sciences. Most of the departments will be multi-disciplinary, but they will be departments headed by a department chair. There is no longer a division structure that combines departments into a greater whole.
Who will head up the new Health Professions Department, and what academic pathways will this department include?
Dr. Bonnie Young began her new duties on March 1 as the interim chair for Health Professions. The following pathways will be housed in this department:
- Kinesiology and Health
- Dental HygieneNursing
- Radiologic Technology
- EMS (once approved) Health Sciences including Health Information Administration, Medical Technology, Radiation Therapy, Respirator Therapy, and Health Science Professions
Political Science and Cultural and Behavior Science.
How will this affect me as a department chair?
Department chairs now will directly report to the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and will work with the Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs for faculty promotion and tenure functions.
How will this affect me as an associate/assistant chair?
We are examining whether any functions of academic chairs should be handed off to associate or assistant chairs. This will be part of the next step of the process. As we review this critical area of our leadership function, we will follow the same basic process that led to the current alignment of our associate deans: we will be inclusive and involve the associate and assistant chairs in the discussion and formulation of any changes.
How will this affect me as a faculty member or staff person?
For most faculty and staff, there will be little change in what you do. For some, reporting lines will be changed. Some programs that fall under the academic or campus part of the associate deans’ roles will have to be reassigned. We are working on identifying those areas as the next part of this process.
Who will be the second signer on faculty evaluations?
The second sign-off will be done at the Dean’s level and will be delegated to the Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs
Who will be responsible for shepherding faculty governance? (taking standing committee reports, ensuring elections take place, maintaining committee membership lists, etc).
This function will remain with the Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs in conjunction with the Dean of the College.
Who will be in charge of CETLOE (The Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning & Online Education)?
CETLOE is one university-wide unit, with Perimeter College faculty associates representing and serving our college. Learn more.
Are there any cost savings or cost increases as a result of this change?
I anticipate that this will be a cost-neutral change. However, it will position us to consider some potential new investments should these strengthen our access and student success mission.