Mirror Exclusive Q&A with newly appointed Academic Dean Colin Irvine

The following is an abridged version of a longer interview with Colin Irvine, Augustana’s new academic dean. Irvine was previously the academic dean for Carroll College in Helena, Mont. The interview took place Mar. 19.

Colin Irvine, Augustana’s new academic dean, in the Siverson on Feb. 26 during his campus introduction speech and Q&A session.

What drew you to higher education?

I was actually drawn in by one of my professors at Carroll College. I had planned to be a high school teacher and coach and was so inspired by the teachers I had there. 

I had a day here in one of my British literature courses with Hank Burgess where I was watching him teach, and I thought, “One day, I hope I can do what he’s doing. I hope I can be on that side of the teacher’s desk, inspiring students and engaging in the discipline the way he does it.”


What do you like to do in your spare time?

I really enjoy reading. I am an unapologetic generalist. I like everything from novels to graphic novels to non-fiction travel writing—I love travel writing. 

There is a stack of books by my desk at home. There are four boxes [of books] in my office here that I need to pack up. And I came [to Montana] with nine boxes of books, and my wife made me promise to get it down to maybe 12 [boxes] when we move to the Midwest. 

I have written quite a number of academic articles on everything from ecocriticism and educational methods to narrative theory, and I have done some travel writing. I’ve written on the American West, especially the contemporary American West. 

For years, I wrote a column about what it is like to be an English professor. And though I am not funny, I like to write humor.

I also very much like the outdoors. I like hiking, and I used to run marathons, but more accurately, I jogged them. I like skiing, cross-country and downhill. 

I also like to cook. That’s mostly because I like to eat. I love Asian food, and I love to grill, and I can make a pretty good hot dish, for the record. 

We had tater tot hot dish last night. Just helping the kids through the transition; we do not want them to go through the cultural bends.


What does your family think about moving to the Midwest?

Well, you know, my son and daughter still say they are from Minnesota. They grew up in Northfield, Minnesota. My in-laws live there, and Sioux Falls is, as they say in Minn., “three hours from the cabin.” So, they are very excited. My wife grew up in the Midwest. I grew up in Boise, Idaho.


What were your first thoughts about Augustana?

The thing that I think I am most excited about, and this is an honest answer, is everything. 

In other words, I’m really excited about the mix of the liberal arts, the fine arts, the embrace of the humanities, and also the strong and impressive STEM programs. 

So, on the academic side, all of that, combined with the new emphasis on innovation, entrepreneurship. Most exciting to me as a teacher is the embrace of applied learning techniques. It is the whole picture that is exciting.

But, more generally, I was so excited about the whole campus life. There’s so much going on on campus, and I’m looking forward to being a part of the whole experience associated with campus life, academics, civic engagement, athletics—it seems to me to be all of a piece. 

Then, finally, I am excited about the community. I will spend most of my time at Augustana, but I like the idea of a community with very porous walls that lets Sioux Falls in and lets students and faculty out into Sioux Falls and the rest of the region.


What are your major goals as academic dean?

I am very excited about spending time with the faculty and staff and administration to get a sense, as we head into the strategic planning phase, of where the passion is and where the hope is among all three of those groups and working with those groups to build on the momentum that’s present and work toward these big strategic imperatives.

One of my goals is I would love to visit as many towns and high schools in South Dakota as my schedule would allow. I think it is so important at a university to understand the region by understanding the high schools. And I love high schools. I was a high school teacher, and any opportunity or excuse I have [to go visit a school], I am going to take it.

It would also be fun to explore truly integrated courses that take, for instance, a course in music and bring music together with physics. It is about finding synergies between existing professors from different disciplines, and formulating them, but not in a way that stifles them. Instead of simply adding a new program, the goal is to find places in between existing ones, across divisions that excite the faculty and, by extension, the students. 

Every dean’s hope is that two faculty from very different departments will come and say, “We want to develop this course.” It is our job to find out how we can create a program around these two things that excite us and have relevance to the students.

My number one interest is in learning—the learning of students, the learning of faculty, the learning of administration. I think it is the whole reason for our being as an institution. I really think, at the end of the day, the learning is what matters. If it becomes a place where learning is celebrated and central and the guiding principle, then you will do nothing but succeed.

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