On Feb. 19, College senior Elizabeth “EB” Pruett became Emory’s first “Dean for a Day.” The event, which was the first of its kind at Emory University, provided Pruett the chance to experience a day in the life of Dean of Campus Life, Ajay Nair.
Pruett said she felt that there was a severe lack of transparency between the students and the administration in the wake of Emory’s recent department cuts and, in an attempt to get a better sense of what goes on “behind the scenes,” she approached Nair with the idea for Dean for a Day.
Pruett said that she was inspired by a program run by her elementary and middle school, Shore Country Day School in Beverly, Mass. As part of a fundraising auction, parents could buy the opportunity for their children to be headmaster for a day.
“I thought that it would be an interesting program to do on a college campus,” Pruett said. “It wouldn’t be a fundraiser, but it would be a good way for students to see the behind-the-scenes [of being a dean] – it could be called ‘Dean for a Day.’”
When inspiration struck, Pruett contacted Nair, who she had met through her duties as an Emory Admissions Fellow.
“EB mentioned to me that she was intrigued by my job and would love to have it,” Nair wrote in an email to the Wheel. “She inspired the Division of Campus Life to create a Dean for a Day program.”
Nair said he hoped the program would achieve several goals. He, like Pruett, wanted to “develop a culture of transparency.”
Other goals the programs seeks to achieve included helping students understand the complex workings of University governance, inspiring students to pursue a career in higher education and helping students to “experience our intergenerational Emory family by interacting with alumni,” Nair said.
In the same way that Pruett wanted to get a better sense of how the University’s administration works, Nair said he wanted to get a glimpse of what student life is like.
After Pruett spent the day as dean, Nair attended one of her sociology classes. “Nair was a very active participant,” Pruett said.
Pruett’s Dean for a Day experience started early – at 7 a.m., to be exact. She had the opportunity to schedule meetings with a variety of Emory administrators including Eric Bymaster, assistant vice president of finance and operations, Dean of Students Dr. Bridget Riordan and University President James W. Wagner. Over the course of her day, Pruett spoke to administrators on a variety of initiatives to improve the university. She even spoke with Wagner about his controversial comments regarding the Three-Fifths Compromise in Emory Magazine.
Throughout the day, Pruett and Nair tweeted about their activities and took lots of pictures. “I wish that I had had a video camera so that people could have seen the experience,” Pruett said.
The next day, Pruett flew to Washington, D.C. with Nair and Director of Development Andrew Christopherson to speak at an Emory alumni networking event. Nair said he felt this event was one of the more successful aspects of the Dean for a Day program.
“It helped alumni get a better understanding of activities on campus and it helped EB get a sense how involved our alumni are in the life of the University,” he said.
Looking back, Pruett said she enjoyed how passionate the administrators were about their work.
“It was so nice and refreshing to see that these people actually care,” she said. “The school actually listens.”
Pruett cites her experience developing and executing the Dean for a Day program as proof that Emory students can bring their ideas to life, if they know who to talk to.
Although there was only one Dean for a Day this year, Pruett said that her experience was just a test run for next year.
She says she hopes that future Deans for a Day will be inspired to pursue their own projects and will have developed the connections to make that possible.
Nair said that he hopes to make Dean for a Day a monthly program, with an application open to all students.
“My take away is that student life is incredibly vibrant at Emory,” Nair said. “EB has set the bar high for the next student Dean!”
—By Nicholas Bradley