WKU alum returns to the Hill as dean of CHHS

Neale Chumbler is the new dean of WKU’s College of Health and Human Services. Chumbler, a ’91 alumni of WKU, comes to the Hill from the University of Georgia, where he served as head of the Department of Health Policy and Management. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Lashana Harney

A WKU alumnus returned to the Hill about a week ago with one mission in mind: to help others. 

Neale Chumbler replaced John Bonaguro as the dean of the College of Health and Human Services after Bonaguro’s decision to return to a faculty position. 

Chumbler’s passion for helping people motivated him to apply for this position. 

“People are going to be, based upon their strengths, successful in certain ways. I want to strive to help people accomplish those goals in life that they have to aspire to be,” he said.

Chumbler was hired in December of last year and started his job as dean on March 23. 

Chumbler obtained a master’s degree from WKU in sociology in 1991. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Murray State University and a Ph.D. in sociology from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. 

“I do a lot interdisciplinary work and this is a unique and novel college with a lot of different healthcare fields and health and human services fields that overlap with my interdisciplinary interests,” Chumbler said. “I think my training in sociology has helped me in my administrative work because it helps you think systematically.”

The Paducah native previously worked at the University of Georgia as a professor, graduate coordinator and the department head of Health Policy and Management in the College of Public Health. Chumbler also held positions at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the University of Florida. 

Chumbler said becoming a dean remained a career objective over the years.

“Whenever I transitioned over to administration work over the past eight years or so I’ve always aspired and wanted to be a dean,” he said. “I think an effective dean is someone who helps develop people’s careers and helps promote programs and educational programs for students and faculty alike.”

Chumbler said the College of Health and Human Services is in great shape. 

“I give credit to my predecessor,” he said. “It’s a great college, we have great academic programs and I want to keep those going…I think we can be a great arm for service learning and international programs.”

Cheryl Stevens, the dean of Ogden College of Science and Engineering and the chair on the College of Health and Human Services dean search committee, said it was Chumbler’s abundance of experience. 

“He brings a wealth of experience in research, health policy, and leadership,” Stevens said. “He seemed very ethical, honest, collaborative, had good experience with strategic learning and seemed very creative.” 

Stevens said Chumbler’s interpersonal skills landed him the position. 

“I think that he was a strong researcher and he had the interpersonal skills to lead a college like the College of Health and Human Services, to motivate people and to set a vision for it’s future along with the faculty,” Stevens said. 

Due to his experience in different areas, Chumbler said he brings perspective to WKU.

“I’m not afraid to roll up my sleeves and get in there and lead by example,” he said.

Chumbler said a lot of the experience comes from his roles in research. Chumbler has authored over 106 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. He has conducted research with the National Science Foundation, US Department of Veteran Affairs, National Institutes of Health and more. One of his favorite research topics is access to health care. 

“I’ve had long staying interest in trying to discover techniques to improve access to care for people out in the community,” he said. 

There are many attributes it takes to climb up the ladder of success, and Chumbler said perhaps the most important is perseverance. 

“You have to be persevering, thick-skinned,” said Chumbler. “You have to strive and realize you are going to fail, but you have to keep preserving. You have to not be afraid to make mistakes… not take things for granted, just outwork the other person so to speak.”

Chumbler said even though it’s only been a week, it is good to be back in Bowling Green. However, Chumbler’s wife, Janice Chumbler, and daughters, Monica and Isabel, won’t be joining him until a couple of months.

When Chumbler isn’t working he said he enjoys exercising, reading and spending time with his family. Although, he said it is hard balancing a demanding job with family. 

“You just have to learn to set the boundaries and be good with time management and learn how to be organized,” he said. “I’m good at those things.” 

Chumbler said he is excited for his years to come as the dean of the College of Health and Human Services.

“I feel like I’ve been ready for it,” he said.  “I think it’s a great opportunity to continue the great success.”