The following is an open letter from President Mark. D Gearan to the Colleges' community.
To the Hobart and William Smith Community,
I write to announce that Dean of William Smith College Debra DeMeis has accepted a position at Wellesley College as Dean of Students and will step down from her duties at the Colleges in June, 2008. In her 31 years at HWS, first as a Professor of Psychology and, since 1995, as Dean of William Smith College, Dean DeMeis has taught and mentored thousands of students. She is a passionate advocate for students, a gifted academic, and a valued friend and colleague.
President of Wellesley College Kim Bottomly noted that after a nationwide search, Dean DeMeis was selected because she is “…articulate, thoughtful, and engaging…” and is “…a seasoned student affairs professional with significant experience in students' academic development, academic advising, and leadership development.”
I couldn't agree more. In her career at the Colleges, Dean DeMeis has effectively taken on some of the institution's greatest challenges. She chaired the 1995 President's Task Force on Diversity, co-chaired the Residential Education Committee that created the current master plan for residences on campus; co-chaired the committee that created the Collaborative Internship Program; oversaw leadership initiatives for women; helped implement JumpStart; put in place programs to identify outstanding students as well as those at risk; helped create the Alcohol and Other Drugs Office; and supervised the move of Career Services, Public Service and Study Abroad to Trinity Hall. Last year, she served as Interim Vice President of Student Affairs as we launched our reorganization efforts.
As the Senior Class Dean and Advisor, she recently created a program for seniors called “From Here to There” to ease the transition from college to career. She has been instrumental in overseeing the addition and renovation of the Scandling Campus Center and currently serves on the Committee on Academic Affairs, the Committee on Athletics, the Enterprise Implementation Steering Committee, the Commission on Inclusive Excellence, the Institutional Review Board and the Wellness Task Force.
“She has helped us find our voices as young women on this campus,” Student Trustee Shavonne Ward '09 recently said to me. “She embodies courage, humility and largeness of heart. She is our role model.”
Dean DeMeis is an enthusiastic guardian of William Smith College traditions and history while creating some traditions like the popular Famous Women's Dinner. She has traveled the country to meet with alumnae about our upcoming William Smith Centennial and chairs the steering committee for the Centennial Celebration. In all her interactions with students, alumni, alumnae, faculty, staff and parents she has shown tremendous grace, aptitude and empathy.
When I informed Board Chair David Deming '75 of the news, he spoke for the entire Board of Trustees: “She's always been a great believer in the power of education to transform lives. The Board of Trustees has valued her counsel and we will miss her.”
Dean DeMeis holds a bachelor of science in psychology from Bowling Green State University, and master and doctoral degrees from West Virginia University. She is a reviewer for “Psychology of Women Quarterly” and is a member of the Society for Research in Child Development and the American Psychological Association.
She has served on numerous boards of community organizations and regularly volunteers her time. From 1999-2003, she sat on the allocations committee of the Ontario County United Way and for the last two years, she has been a reader for Reading for the Record at Geneva General Hospital and West Street School. Dean DeMeis is an expert on the role of service in the classroom.
When Dean DeMeis and her husband, Joe, the Principal of West Street School, head to Wellesley this summer, they will leave behind a legacy of service to our Colleges and Geneva, an inspiring reminder to all of us who value community engagement and service.
Dean DeMeis once wrote that the fundamental focus of a liberal arts education is identity. In her 31 years at the Colleges, Debra DeMeis has helped shape the identities of thousands of William Smith women and of William Smith College itself, as dean. Her compassion and genuine interest in the lives of our students have made her an exceptional mentor, colleague, professor and Dean.
I know I speak for many when I say that she will be dearly missed.
Mark D. Gearan
A high resolution photo of Debra DeMeis is available for download.