Stevens aims to be an ‘advocate for students’

After years as associate dean for Scholarship at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, Cheryl Stevens became the dean of Ogden College. Stevens will now serve as the acting provost after Terry Ballman’s resignation. 


Cheryl Stevens has marked an important milestone in her career: She has survived half of her first semester as the new dean of Ogden College of Science and Engineering.

“I’m having a good time. So far, so good,” Stevens said with a laugh when she sat down with the Herald at the end of February. “Five weeks in, and no complaints.”

WKU announced in October that Stevens would replace outgoing Ogden dean, Blaine Ferrell, who entered transitional retirement in December. Stevens began her term as Ogden College dean on Jan. 23.

Before coming to WKU, Stevens worked for Xavier University of Louisiana, a liberal arts college with nearly 3,400 students, according to its website. She joined the chemistry faculty there in 1982, was named department chair in 2005 and was appointed associate dean in 2009.

So far in her career, she’s received numerous awards and has been involved in more than $18 million in grant-funded projects.

“I think of myself as a successful researcher and grant writer — you could even say ‘prolific,’” Stevens said. “But the thing is, all of that was about students.

“You bring in this money to set up a research lab … and the purpose of this research lab is to train students. It’s all for them.”

Engineering department head Julie Ellis said she’s witnessed Stevens’ love of students firsthand, even within Stevens’ few weeks on the job.

“She’s clearly an advocate for students,” Ellis said. “She’s made herself open and available many times.”

Ellis also pointed out Stevens’ inquisitive nature, particularly in learning the inner workings of the college.

“She’s not afraid to say ‘Tell me more. I don’t know enough about this,’” Ellis said. “I am confident that she will serve us well.”

Bruce Kessler, associate dean of Ogden, said Stevens’ curiosity about the college began before her position started.

“We talked quite a bit before she even started her job,” he said. “She wanted to get a handle on what I did. We’ve had really good discussions so far.”

Kessler said there aren’t many differences between former dean Ferrell and Stevens, calling both “level-headed” and “really [wanting] to ask opinions of the people around them.”

“She picks up on subtleties very quickly,” Kessler noted. “I made newbie, freshman mistakes when I first started, and I’m impressed with her ability to totally stay out of those mistakes.”

Stevens said the environment at Xavier is very similar to that of WKU, which has made the transition from a small liberal arts college to a large public university easier.

“Western is a big institution, but it has this liberal-artsy kind of attitude on how you treat students,” she said. “We want to give them an excellent education…We want them to be successful. That’s the kind of place I came from, except it was a lot smaller.”

For Stevens, “just not knowing who to call” has been the hardest part of her transition to WKU.

“You know, you get to the point of knowing after 29-and-a-half years [at Xavier], you know exactly who to call, and here, I don’t know,” she said. “But I can tell you…the people all around campus have been so fantastic. Anything I need help with, there’s someone to help.”

Stevens felt that she “jumped in with both feet.” Within her first month, she said she’s worked on hiring next year’s faculty, started preparing new degree programs for Ogden College and brainstormed “big picture ideas” for the departments within Ogden.

Stevens said her main goal is “increasing student engagement.”

“I see my ‘big picture’ goal as being an advocate for their success,” she said. “I won’t really see them every day, but what I’m doing is working toward an infrastructure that leads to their being educated well.”