New dean hopes to continue positive growth

Zane Mitchell was recently named the dean of the Pott College of Science, Engineering and Teaching after serving as interim dean since June. Mitchell is a professor of engineering and before moving into the dean position, served as the chair of the engineering department. The Shield sat down with Mitchell to discuss his time in the United States Air Force and his plans for the new role.

The Shield: How was your experience as interim dean?

Zane Mitchell: It was actually very exciting. We have a lot of things going on in the Pott College, a lot of things we are working on. So I came in to the position ready to hit the ground running and we were able to come up with a very good interim engineering chair, so I didn’t have to worry about that. Really since about mid May I was able to focus on this position. Dr. Paul Koebling has been the interim chair and taken care of everything there.

Shield: Was the plan for you to move into the permanent position as dean?

Mitchell: My plan was always to apply for the position. The university’s plan was to do the national search. They did the national search and I ended up being selected. I am very humbled and grateful for the opportunity.

Shield: Was there any experience during your time in the military which you feel prepared you for this role?

Mitchell: I actually think the experience running the large project in Siberia prepared me the best for this. It was such a wide variety of different folks working toward a common goal and that’s what we have here. A really nice variety of people with a bunch of different specialties, both on the faculty and staff, all geared toward helping students succeed and reach their goals.

Shield: Can you tell me a little more about that project?

Mitchell: It was a large construction project to develop really a complete facility for the destruction of nerve agent. It was an automated factory in the middle of Siberia. Very austere conditions. We had to invent the chemical process to neutralize the nerve agent and we had to also really invent the machines that could do this in a safe manner. Even a small amount of nerve agent can kill a person so we wanted the whole process to be very hands off. There was the complete design and construction from the process to the machinery to the factory with the environmental systems built into it to prevent the escape  of any nerve agent that would leak out of the shells. All the while working with the community around the base to make sure they were safe and that they felt safe and were aware of everything that was going on.

Shield: Did anything impact your decision to join the military?

Mitchell: My father was in the Air Force. I was always around airplanes growing up, so I decided I wanted to be a pilot.

Shield: During your time in the Air Force did you ever imagine yourself in a position like this?

Mitchell: I always knew I was coming back to academics. I was kind of a weird student because at the Air Force Academy tuition was all paid for. So I would take the maximum number of classes I was allowed to take because I viewed them as free knowledge. I probably took more credit hours than most people would want to take in a semester.

Shield: Was that transition difficult for you?

Mitchell: Actually I had prepared myself to making a transition to academia from the time I accepted to go for a PhD to teaching at the Air Force Academy multiple times I felt really prepared me to go in this direction.

\Shield: What differences do you see between teaching and a role in administration?

Mitchell: The neatest difference is I get to work with more people and I get to meet more people. Hopefully help more people. A lot more of my time is spent really I’d say with the faculty and staff now, unfortunately a little less with the students now. That’s a little bit of the sacrifice that’s being made to move to this level. Although I do plan to keep teaching occasionally it won’t be at the same level I was teaching in the past.

Shield: Do you have any specific goals for yourself?

Mitchell: I hope to be the best dean I can be and to continue the positive growth the college has had. Hopefully contribute to student success and faculty success.

Shield: Are there any programs within the college you are especially excited for?

Mitchell: I think our next big program that will be offered will be a doctoral degree in education. We are working on that now and hopefully that will be the next big degree we are able to offer.