By Tate Luckey

If you ever travel to Asheville, N.C., you may get asked if you’re a “mountain or beach person.”

After spending 16 years conducting psychology research at UNC Greensboro, Dayna Touron — dean of the College of Arts and Sciences — decided that she was a University of Louisville person.

Touron is no stranger to hard work. She, like many others at U of L, is a first-generation college graduate coming from a blue-collar family who emphasized the importance of education.

At UNCG she slowly began to take on more administrative roles, serving on committees and taking advantage of any opportunity she had to work across other disciplines at the college. Yet she hungered for more leadership.

The choice for her wasn’t hard.

Changes in opportunities

Both UNCG and U of L are, in her words, “not quite metropolitan, but not quite urban.” They’re both unique college communities that are inside of a city that are inside of a larger, more diverse area. Touron wanted to be at an institution where there were opportunities to do good work.

“I’m interested in providing access, social mobility, creating a culture of belonging…really serving the underserved and creating opportunities for students,” she said.

Touron said she’s found that institutions committed to research, but also community engagement, are powerful. Providing students with both the proximity and ability to collaborate with faculty leads to their empowerment.

You may wonder, what exactly does a dean do? “Madness,” according to Touron. Little fires come up here and there that she welcomes. Currently, it’s early morning meetings with department chairs and program directors in the college or members of the president’s or provost’s cabinet.

“Sometimes I’m up till 4 a.m. sending emails. But these are good meetings to see what needs to be figured out,” she noted.

All of her work serves her toward her larger goal of building community, and for her, it’s incredibly fulfilling. In a recent meeting with the College of Business interim dean Jeff Guan, he told her how the most successful students in U of L’s MBA program aren’t typically COB graduates. Instead, they’re those who majored in history or English.

“They understand how to solve problems, how to think deeply, synthesize texts. [They are] thinking about certain periods of history and what the causal factors were. You get all those people together in front of a problem –I’ll take our odds anytime,” she said.

Soaking up Louisville life

She and her son, a freshman at the university, live in the Highlands where they experience Louisville whenever they can. It was quite a life change for her to move from somewhere where she knew her institution’s place in North Carolina’s “machine” to the Midwest.

And yes, she means the Midwest. “I was born in eastern Tennessee but grew up in New York. I used to think of Kentucky as the South, but Louisville’s the Midwest. The people are nice, but genuine,” she joked.

Their home movers included an upperclassman who would not stop praising the university. During parent orientation, she gained perspective in seeing what the university does not just through an administrator’s eyes, but also through a parent and student’s lens. For her, it’s an incredibly fortunate thing.

“I started July 5th, so I went to the Arts and Sciences open house to chat with students and faculty. At one point I sat underneath the Blaine Hudson poster just to feel the energy of students. I’ve talked with student government,” she said.

“Going from professor to admin, you don’t have day-to-day interaction with students. My lab in Greensboro had a small core of those I interacted with day to day, but I instead have the opportunity to support all faculty and students,” she said.

Motivations moving forward

She has learned that some groups of students tend to have issues with belonging, and is determined to better communicate the kinds of careers students coming out with such a degree can get.

“We’re giving them skills they can use as they move from career to career. We should be able to talk about hard problems and differences of opinion and how to move forward in a place where confronting truths is welcome,” Touron said.

“The modern state of university in terms of societal understanding and appreciation has been lost. Institutions of higher learning contribute so much to society,” she said. “We have got to be a force for good.”

To her, that’s one of the biggest obligations U of L has.

Photo Courtesy // The University of Louisville, Tate Luckey (The Louisville Cardinal)