USU’s Caine College welcomes new dean, focus on inclusivity
Nearly a decade after its founding, the Caine College of the Arts at Utah State University is welcoming its second dean.
“I’m the person that has to fill the really big shoes of our founding dean, Craig Jessop,” said Dean Rachel Nardo as she spoke to students and faculty last week at the college’s convocation. “I was going to get some of those clown shoes, but I just put on my high heels instead.”
Nardo comes to USU by way of California State University from the Office of the Chancellor, where she directed the multidisciplinary, international summer arts program for seven years.
Although this is her first time living in Cache Valley, she did visit the area while she worked at the University of Utah from 2007 to 2012.
“I love being in Cache Valley,” Nardo said.
At the University of Utah, Nardo was both a professor and the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Presidential Endowed Chair. That connection with Sorenson’s legacy is what Nardo said drew her to USU because the school also enjoys two of her endowments.
“This college is a jewel in the state,” Nardo said.
Dean Nardo compared the quality of education at the Caine College of the Arts to that of an arts conservatory. As the new dean, she said her next focus will be ensuring students are able to meet the demands of a 21st-century workplace. This includes integrating the arts and technology in classroom settings and remaining up to date on what employers need.
One way Nardo wants to do this is by using certificate programs to fill in the gaps and better provide students the skills they will need after graduation.
“Universities can’t always move as fast in curriculum as the labor market needs,” Nardo said. She envisions certificate programs as an avenue for addressing this challenge.
Increasing enrollment is also important to Nardo. She said the college is not at capacity and she wants to change that. One way she plans on addressing this is by using social media throughout the recruitment process to help prospective students foster relationships with faculty and other students.
Nardo said the goal here is ensuring that “before they get on campus, they already have a community.”
Nicky Moore is one of the Caine College of the Arts student ambassadors and is studying music performance on the viola. Moore said she views Nardo as a student advocate.
“She is very excited and energetic about making sure that we get the support that we deserve,” Moore said.
Moore attended last week’s convocation on critical response theory, which is a technique designed to help people ask neutral questions about creative projects. Earlier this year, Moore said students had been asked via survey if they would like to learn about this. Seeing that question turn into an event helps her feel students are being listened to.
“She is aware of our needs. She seems very observant,” Moore said.
Nardo’s hiring comes about two years after stories began surfacing of students in the university’s piano program enduring sexual assault, harassment and discrimination while attending USU.
Nardo said the unfortunate reality is situations like this are all too common in the arts because of the power dynamic between students and their professors. Using the critical response technique in the classroom is one way she hopes to foster positive relationships between faculty and students.
“Helping faculty and students develop a new way to communicate, that is the expectation,” Nardo said.
Inclusion is also an important focus for Dean Nardo. In conjunction with the university’s newly opened Latinx Cultural Center, she wants to reach out to that community and help those students feel welcome. She also wants to ensure LGBTQ+ students feel welcome in the college.
“We want to be inclusive,” Nardo said. “Everyone belongs here.”