Southern Oregon University has a new Dean of Students, Dr. Carrie Vath Ph.D. (she/her), and The Siskiyou sat down with her earlier this week to ask a few questions.
Where did you grow up? Go to school? What brought you to Ashland?
I’m originally from Northern California, Santa Rosa, and I did my undergraduate degree at Humboldt State University. I graduated with a major in Zoology and a minor in Anthropology.
I came to Ashland from Montana where I had been working as the Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Success and Dean of Students at Montana Technological University. I was there for 7 years and was in that role for the last 4 years. Prior to being in Montana, I was in Florida but left so I could be closer to my family, who is spread throughout Washington, Oregon, and California.
When I saw this SOU position I thought, Oh my gosh, this would put me 2 and a half hours from my mom and my sister just accepted a job in Medford as a Librarian, wouldn’t this be great to move over? My husband thought Oregon sounded awesome. So I applied and then got it, and we moved out here. It’s exciting.
How did you get interested in Zoology? Was that something you’ve always been passionate about, or something that developed over time?
I’ve had a love of science and conservation since I was a child. I started doing conservation and animal work at a very young age and for the longest time felt like that’s what I was going to do with my life. That’s what I had been doing when I was finishing up my Ph.D.
I was expecting that I would go for a traditional faculty line and be in a biology or anthropology department. But the way I helped to pay for graduate school was through coordinating tutoring support services and really focusing on student success.
So when it got to the point that I was going to be applying for jobs, my mentor, my Ph.D. advisor, and my mom had all said, “Well, you know, you’re so good at blending things, why aren’t you applying for jobs where you can help students be successful and also then teach on the side?” and I thought, you’re right, that’s what I should do.
So I applied for those jobs and that’s kind of how I landed. I’m a nontraditional Dean of Students in that I very much come from the academic side of the house, but also integrating in that student success and retention piece.
So the other part that was lovely about SOU is it’s more of a narrowed focus than I had been accustomed to, which is a good thing, and also the idea that of because of my skill sets, I’m helping to move the university forward and chair some new things. So I appreciated that SOU was willing to look at some of my additional strengths and incorporate that into some of my job requirements. Which to me is wonderful. That’s what I look for.
Could you speak about some of the steps that the university has taken to increase enrollment rate following the recent 12% drop?
I can speak a little bit about it. I don’t oversee enrollment, but one of the best ways that you can improve enrollment is through your retention practices and a step that SOU has already taken is the SOU Cares notes.
I have been fascinated with the Cares notes system, and a project that I’m going to look at is to analyze the data associated with those Cares reports and find out if it’s improving our student retention by utilizing that system, and what does that look like from the enrollment trends.
Again, I would always defer to Matt Stillman as an enrollment manager, and Neil Wolfe, as well as Zach in admissions for new student recruitment. But what I think for the enrollment efforts is to really look at retention and the initiatives of how we support the students once they’re here. What does that look like? One of the big initiatives right now that I’ve seen is the SOU Cares notes.
I try to end all of my interviews with some fun rapid fire questions, if you’re up for that?
Let’s go for it.
Awesome. What’s the first concert you remember going to?
Weird Al Yankovic. I would go again in a heartbeat. Weird Al was fantastic. It was with my parents. I loved it.
What book are you reading at the moment and could you describe it in 1 sentence?
So right now I have a five year old and most of the books that I’m reading are for her. Her favorite one that we read regularly is the Ugly Five. It’s set in Africa and they have the shy five, the ugly five, the big five, the little five, so this is a story about the five animals that make up the ugly five and that they’re really beautiful.
What’s your favorite breakfast food?
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and when I got married, we actually did breakfast for dinner. So in a general morning, I’m usually going to have a piece of fruit, so that’s either going to be a banana or a kiwi. Then I’m going to have some toast and some kind of protein source, whether that’s an egg or tofu or beans. Then I will have some tea. And that would be on a weekday morning. I like to give myself 45 minutes to eat breakfast in the morning. So I wake up extra early so I can just slowly do all my breakfast routine. If it’s the weekend, I’ll usually make pancakes or french toast, or do eggs and hash browns and all sorts of stuff.
What is something you’re looking forward to most about your future here at SOU?
So whenever you leave and come to a new place, it’s bittersweet and you always hope like, I really loved all my people at my other institution, and I hope I’m really going to like my colleagues. I know I’m going to like the students because students tend to universally be pretty awesome. So it’s a matter of how am I going to like my colleagues, and I love my colleagues, they are so fantastic. So I hope that that relationship continues to grow.
Then the other thing that really excited me about SOU was the shows, student musical performances, and theatre performances. All of that art that we didn’t have at my previous institution. I was a theater kid so I really love the theater, and being able to have my daughter experience the arts is really big. That was a huge draw for coming to SOU, the arts.
Is there anything you think the students and faculty should know about you? Or anything that you want to share about yourself?
The most frequent comment I’ve received since getting here is, “Wow, you’re really tall” Because I interviewed on Zoom, we’re on Zoom right now and I’m 6’1”, so I’m taller than you might think when you meet me on Zoom. Let’s see, what’s the other. I don’t dye my hair, this is natural. I get a lot of people who say, “Hey, that’s pretty sweet pepper hair you have there” and it’s all natural. But I would say I get a lot of people telling me that I’m a lot taller than they anticipated.