A Vision for Excellence: Interview with Dean Limesand

Nov. 22, 2023
An image of Anesu Masango Interviewing Dr. Limesand in her office.

After missing the opportunity to attend any of the famous “donuts with the Dean” sessions, I was fortunate enough to sit down with her and have a candid talk about…wait for it… Kale! I’m just kidding. Though we did have some kale small talk, we mostly discussed what is in store for the Graduate College under her leadership. She shared her background, vision, and plans for the college, offering advice and inspiration to graduate students.

I arrived at her office, feeling a mix of excitement and nervousness. As I stepped in, she immediately dropped what she was doing and made me feel comfortable. The atmosphere was warm, almost like catching up with an old friend. She even offered me some snacks, which was a pleasant surprise. We engaged in a little small talk on our newly discovered shared love for sport and, of course, kale. It turns out, I like mine cooked as part of a stew, and she loves hers in a smoothie.

Here is what I learned from the short time spent together in her office that day.

The Dean of the Graduate College, Dr. Kirsten Limesand, traced her path from an Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona in 2005 to her current role as the Dean. She emphasized her commitment to incorporating graduate students into her research team early in her career. "The first individuals that I added to my research team were a Ph.D. student and a master's student. I've always prioritized having graduate students as part of the research team that I was building."

Highlighting a turning point in 2015, she mentioned her participation in the University of Arizona Academic Leadership Institute and subsequent investment in her leadership potential by her Dean at the time. "When I became an Associate Professor, I got more experience in the graduate education leadership side, and I was the Director of Graduate Studies for the Nutrition Sciences Graduate program for six years. A turning point was probably in 2015 when I participated in the University of Arizona Academic Leadership Institute." This led to her role as the Special Liaison for Graduate Education in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, where she gained valuable skills in leadership, budgeting, and strategic planning.

The Dean also delved into her personal philosophy about her role. "The overall goal of the Graduate College is for the University of Arizona to be a destination place to complete a graduate degree. We have three sub-goals in order to attain that overall goal": increasing access to graduate education, providing foundational support across the graduate student life cycle, and graduating career-ready students.

Regarding plans for the academic year, she said, "The first initiative I want to talk about is the Grad Success Messenger. The first issue went out at the beginning of October. And the second initiative that I want to highlight is the Monthly Donuts with the Dean."  For those who do not know, the Grad Success Messenger is a communication platform that showcases resources for student success, and the Monthly Donuts with the Dean program is aimed at connecting with students and gaining insights into their experiences.

As the discussion turned toward challenges and opportunities for graduate students, the Dean identified interdisciplinary research as an exciting opportunity, emphasizing the increasing norm of collaborative work. She acknowledged financial support and mental health as critical concerns, expressing her commitment to addressing these issues. "The challenges are probably not surprising. They are financial support and mental health self-care. …the financial support of our graduate students is intricately linked to many important elements." Importantly, she said that “...we all need to work together in order to solve the grand challenges that we face."

When asked about fostering a sense of community and support within the Graduate College, Dean Limesand responded, "The element that I want to draw out of your question is meeting students where they are in order to help them be successful." She encouraged students to explore the resources offered by the Graduate Center and actively engage in building a community that meets their needs. The conversation also touched on the demands of graduate education, and she emphasized the Graduate College's role in supporting students to map their responsibilities and opportunities onto their career trajectory, urging students to keep their career goals in focus throughout their academic journey.

Concerning the motivation and inspiration needed for the academic journey, here is what Dean Limesand advised students to do. "The best answer I can come up with is to remember why you wanted to pursue a graduate degree in the first place. Graduate school is challenging and rigorous, and there are times when you need to figure out what brings you energy." This led me to ask her to share some success stories but she refrained from highlighting specific individuals. Instead, she emphasized that every student who completes their degree is a success story, serving as inspiration for current students.

The Dean then noted the importance of diversity and inclusivity in the Graduate College. She highlighted the role of new graduate student orientation in promoting inclusivity and fostering a sense of community, and she emphasized the need for continuous daily interactions that contribute to a welcoming environment. Transitioning to the topic of engagement and networking, she encouraged students to build networks by being genuine and curious. She acknowledged the importance of connections made both professionally and personally, emphasizing that networks are all around us.

In addressing the challenges posed by virtual and hybrid learning, Dean Limesand acknowledged the uncertainty and mentioned seeking guidance from experts at the University Center for Assessment Teaching and Technology. She added that the virtual option for the Monthly Donuts with the Dean sessions is an effort to provide flexibility for students.

The conversation concluded with a discussion on the role of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) in academia. Dr. Limesand recognized A.I.'s potential in distilling complex data and solving problems but raised concerns about biases associated with A.I. “As students, you have the opportunity and responsibility to contribute to shaping the ethical and equitable implementation of A.I. Explore the initiatives on campus, participate in workshops, and stay informed about the evolving landscape of A.I in academia."

She pointed to a task force on campus working on A.I. issues and encouraged students to learn more.

As the conversation wrapped up, the Dean shared information about the Graduate Program Coordinator Outstanding Contributions Award, encouraging students to nominate coordinators who have made a significant impact on their training.

Listen to the full interview with Dean Limesand coming soon on The Graduate Student’s Guide Podcast