This Women’s History Month, The Den is celebrating some of Mercer University‘s top leaders — our female deans.
These women, who serve as deans of eight of Mercer’s 12 schools and colleges, are responsible for the academic and administrative affairs of their units. They are skilled in strategic planning; educating; recruiting and retaining faculty and staff; managing a budget; and engaging with those in the university community and beyond.
We’ll be featuring each dean on separate days throughout March, so be sure to come back to The Den to learn more about these outstanding women. Today, we spotlight Dr. Priscilla Danheiser, dean of the College of Professional Advancement.
Dr. Priscilla Danheiser
How long have you worked at Mercer?
I joined the Mercer community in August of 2001 and have served as dean of the College of Professional Advancement since 2008.
What was your career path to become dean?
After completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology and English, master’s and Ph.D. degrees in psychology, and graduate teaching and lab assistantships at the University of Georgia, I accepted a faculty position at Wesleyan College — the very first college to grant baccalaureate degrees to women — where I was quickly asked to assume a wide variety of administrative roles.
Over 23 years, I assumed responsibility for a series of new college-wide initiatives, including internships and experiential learning, intrusive academic advising, first-year seminars, a return-to college program for women, U.S. Department of Energy grants connected to Oak Ridge National Laboratory to support middle school girls in STEM, and Department of Education grants to support service learning, among other projects. I served as associate dean and registrar, dean of the college, and as vice president of academic affairs. I became heavily involved at the national level, primarily through the American Association of Colleges and Universities, in general education reform, non-Western and cross-cultural curriculum development and curriculum internationalization, science education for civic engagement, and student learning and health. I was heavily involved in projects to deepen student learning through ubiquitous computing opportunities. While at the college, I learned from the constant stream of amazing women leaders we brought to campus for our students, including Shirley Chisholm, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, Betty Friedan, Johnnetta Cole, Ellen Goodman, Jane Goodall, Eugenie Clark, Queen Noor Al-Hussein, Elizabeth Dole and so many others.
I moved to Mercer to direct our first University-wide Center for Teaching and Learning with responsibilities for re-imagining faculty development and renewal opportunities, the Learning Technology and Academic Computing units, and the Academic Resource Centers throughout the University. I worked closely with Mercer’s fantastic and committed provosts, assisting with student success initiatives, student affairs, summer programs to include a new summer online pilot, general education and research support. I joined what was then the College of Continuing and Professional Studies — now the College of Professional Advancement — as faculty member and associate dean and have had the opportunity to serve as dean since 2008.
What do you enjoy most about being dean?
I unabashedly love it all. Without a doubt, the role of academic dean just has to be the best job in higher education or perhaps in any field. In my career I have benefitted from terrific support, encouragement, collaboration and leadership from faculty, staff, students and administrators, and this has led to us all working together to experiment with innovative practices designed to encourage student involvement in learning. Creating an incubator environment for new ideas and practices, implementing them, and assessing their effectiveness in deepening student learning across the wide variety of disciplines and programs represented in our college are what we are all about in the College of Professional Advancement.
What in your academic field are you most passionate about?
My research interests, presentations and publications relate to self-generated attitude change and to variables that moderate the interaction of personality and situation to impact behavior. These areas of focus have had so many applications throughout my career.
What advice would you give to future women leaders?
My advice is for anyone asked to provide leadership at any level. Continue to learn, be honest, and never underestimate or discount the potentially transformational contributions of any individual with whom you have the opportunity to work.