Tatum Thomas named new dean of School of Continuing and Professional Studies
October 4, 2020
Tatum Thomas,PhD, became the dean of DePaul’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies preceding an unorthodox school year. However, Thomas’ prior experience working with adult students and personal experience with non-traditional education has carried through into her new role.
According to DePaul Newsline, Thomas lived in New York City for most of her life. Her career in non-traditional education began when she herself was an adult student, obtaining a bachelor’s in psychology from Marymount Manhattan College, gaining a master’s from Baruch College. This led her to begin her career in helping adult students pursue their goals as a director of academic services at New York University and then senior associate dean at Columbia University.
Now, she is continuing to help students in a non-traditional environment here at DePaul. Through strategies, connections, diversity and flexibility, Thomas hopes to help students become even more prepared to take on the workforce.
“They’re a different person when they receive their degree,” Thomas said.
Thomas said she enjoys seeing adult students thrive through the transformation process from when they first enter college to when they graduate. Now, she is doing this through DePaul’s mission, which drove her to come to Chicago.
“What drove me to DePaul was the great sense of mission and purpose,” Thomas said, “and the calling to do.”
Thomas explained that the altruistic message of DePaul provided what must be done for students, which is providing them a space for education and access. However, this can be daunting for adult students. With the cost of education and a conflict in schedule, students could be driven away. However, Thomas aims to combat those worries through course schedules that accommodate all students, provided in different modalities, as well as looking at how students can get an affordable education.
“My direct involvement has ensured that students who might have not had a chance to pursue traditional education at an institution now have that opportunity,” Thomas said.
Thomas said that adult students come from all walks of life. However, as higher education is changing, along with the nature of the Covid-19 pandemic, student needs are shifting as well. Thomas highlighted that the traditional pace of an education is not always desirable. Spending four to six years to obtain a degree is not suitable for everyone. Therefore, Thomas said that DePaul’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies is providing the options for students to complete their degree through either an undergraduate degree, master’s degree, or certificate. Regardless of the amount of time they spend at DePaul, students are looking to maximize the benefits from their education. Through flexible scheduling with a variety of opportunities of modes of learning, they can cater their education around their other priorities.
“My experience has been to deliver education in formats and structures that have not necessarily been offered,” Thomas said.
When Covid-19 struck, even though the lives of students have shifted, Thomas was already equipped to handle issuing online courses.
“Early on, I was in the space of delivering online learning before we needed to,” Thomas said.
However, as most classes will not be taking place on campus this quarter, Thomas is developing plans on how to engage with students, faculty and staff. Currently, she is in the process of planning an open house for students in the School of Continuing and Professional Studies to engage with them and get to know each other and seeing what it’s like being agile in the age of Covid-19.
“This will be a more intimate conversation,” Thomas said.
Thomas and key staff members will discuss how to best engage with students. This will teach students how to change and behave with the circumstances as well as getting the chance to interact with each other.
Thomas also explained that even though adult students don’t have the traditional college experience, some of them do yearn for it. Thomas said DePaul provides these opportunities for campus involvement, even though they take a different form. When she worked at Columbia University, they held an adult student leadership awards ceremony. She said that even though adult student leaders may contribute to the community in slightly different ways, they are still engaged.
Currently at DePaul, there are adult males of color initiative, whereas other adult students could be working guest speakers. The students in turn engage with each other, faculty and gain a network.
“The way that student life expresses itself for adult students might just be a little bit more task-oriented on the surface,” Thomas said. “But if we drill down, it does give students the opportunity to engage with faculty, engage with each other, build a network, it builds community.”
Aside from providing opportunities, Thomas is seeing how DePaul can build on its diversity and inclusion. She said that conversations will start with faculty. They launched a diversity and inclusion work group where they have dialogue with faculty and staff.
“We’re developing an action plan on how we’re going to tackle diversity and inclusion,” Thomas said.
She said that the group will start early in seeing how the curricula will have threads for inclusion, diversity and anti-racism. Prior to working at DePaul, Thomas managed the HBCU program at Columbia University, which was a fellowship that helped seniors obtain their master’s degree through career opportunities and support services, said DePaul Newsline.
Along with an inclusive atmosphere, Thomas enjoys encountering students with long histories at DePaul. She has met double and triple blue demons, students that have come back for their education. Thomas said one of her goals is to make DePaul feel like a home that they can always return to.
“We’re going to be that place where our students are able to learn for life,” Thomas said.
Thomas said that students are fortunate to be in the city of Chicago to study due to being immersed in their professions. However, what brought Thomas to Chicago was not the thrill of living in the Windy City, but DePaul’s mission and how its mission houses altruism and the desire to support others.
Correction (10/11/20): A previous version of this story listed Tatum Thomas as the new dean of School of Continuing and Professional Education. It has since been updated to her correct title of dean of School of Continuing and Professional Studies.