A Michigan State University department head has been selected as the next dean of Utah State University’s Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services.
Alan Smith, who serves as that school’s professor and chairperson in the department of kinesiology, will begin his post July 1, USU announced in a recent news release.
“The college is clearly central to the success of Utah State University and also to the education and wellbeing of Utah,” Smith said. “It’s just really a superb college.”
Though he is not from the Beehive State, Smith has former colleagues from the renowned Purdue University who work at USU now. He also visited the Logan campus several years ago to give talks on his field of study — the commonality between sports and physical activity with young people’s functioning psychologically and socially.
He said the trip was an opportunity to meet new people and learn more, including how much different Cache Valley’s scenery is from East Lansing, where MSU is located.
“We’re pretty flat here,” Smith said with a laugh, referring to his current home state. “They’re both lovely but in different ways.”
He called Logan a “great place” for students to balance their time between enjoying the outdoors and their “usual rigors of study.”
“It just seemed like a wonderful setting,” Smith said.
In discussing what he thinks the College of Education and Human Services has done well, he credited his predecessor, Beth Foley, who served as dean from 2010 to 2020. Foley is teaching remotely from Florida, where she spends her winters, and will go on sabbatical this year. She also told The Herald Journal she will teach another semester after that before retiring.
Foley praised Smith as a great fit for the dean’s role.
“I believe he will be a transformative dean. He appreciates the strengths of the College of Education and Human Services and the achievements and talents of our students, staff, faculty and leadership team,” she wrote in an email. “I am confident he will lead the College to even greater prominence nationally.”
Smith cited that latter point as one of his “30,000 foot goals” for the college. He hopes the “regional gem” becomes better known throughout the U.S. Already, the college itself has been recognized as No. 1 in Utah and No. 29 in the nation for its graduate programs by U.S. News & World Report.
“Some call it the best-kept secret — I don’t know if I’d go that far,” he said. “I think people know USU is incredible, but I think it could be more broadly known how excellent it is.”
A broader goal he has is to examine the college’s two planks — education and human services — and “carefully consider … what is the landscape going to look like and how can we move USU there before everyone else,” Smith said.
Aside from that, the new dean would like to expand programming for students through USU’s statewide campuses and online education; develop programming that is responsive to Utahns, the the economy and national labor trends; and make sure the college “enables faculty and students to thrive personally and as a community.
But before the new dean can roll up his sleeves and get started on achieving results, he says his first priority will be getting to know the college.
“When you’re coming in — especially from the outside — the first thing you need to do is really get a good handle on what’s going on,” Smith said. “I’m going to look forward to learning in great depth.”
He wants to pursue a “unifying theme” as dean, but not simply be the guy who sits perched in an office above campus. Owing to his kinesiology roots, Smith said he will advise post-graduate students who are interested in his field of study.
But more than that, he hopes to make his way to classrooms and events within the college whenever possible.
“Understandably, students tend to be pretty far removed from upper administrators and they don’t, maybe, really know what they do,” Smith said. “Administrators sometimes lose touch with what the student experience is. Of course, I want to, as best I can, bridge that gap.”