Gatepost Interview: Susan Dargan, Ph.D. – Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences

What is your educational and professional background?

I got my bachelor’s degree at Simmons University in Boston in Sociology and Government. Then, I went on a year or so later to Boston University where I got my master’s and Ph.D. in Sociology, with a focus on Race and Ethnic Relations. I started teaching at Framingham State in 1987, part-time; then, I became full-time temporary. Eventually, I was hired tenure track, and became a department chair, a faculty fellow, and then an academic dean. I was the founding dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, which is now the College of Education and Social and Behavioral Sciences. I have also done a stint as interim dean of Business here at Framingham.

Why did you choose to teach at FSU?

Well, first of all, it was the students. I really connected with them from the first day that I taught on campus. Students are just wonderful, in many different ways. First, it was the students, and then it was also my colleagues – the faculty were really supportive. They tend to be very down to earth and not elitist. I really liked the fact that it’s a state university, and it’s a public institution. My father went to Fitchburg State University, and my aunt graduated from Framingham State University. They were the first in their family to go to college and I knew what the system meant to them in their lives, so I was really happy to be offered a tenure-track position at Framingham State.

What do you like most about working with students?

In my capacity as an instructor, it’s seeing them grow and transform during their time at Framingham State. Some come thinking they’re not sure what they’re going to do, they’re not sure that they want to be in college, but then over time, you see them find themselves, and really grow and thrive. Sometimes, I’m able to help them as a dean through some difficult times, especially when I handle academic standing cases in my college – so, students who get suspended, students who leave and get re-admitted. They’re struggling sometimes and I love being able to offer some encouragement and support, and then often see results where they come around and maybe they take a year off, maybe they are able to address some of the other issues in their lives going on. Then, they actually do better and finish, so that’s very satisfying as well. 

What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

Oh boy, surprised to learn about me? Well, they often know a lot about me. They know that I’m a huge Red Sox fan, but maybe they’re surprised by that. I love baseball, and sometimes, they’re surprised that I know a lot about baseball, things like that. That’s one that I can think of off the top of my head.

How has COVID-19 impacted your role as dean?

It’s definitely made my job much more challenging. I’ve never worked harder in dealing with constant shifts in the environment of higher education in general, and at Framingham State specifically. … I’m on Zoom all the time in meetings, which is exhausting. … I miss the connection with my colleagues, whether that’s just bumping into each other at work, or talking in each other’s offices, or asking a quick question. You run down the hall and you ask somebody – you can’t do that anymore. I really miss that. I think working remotely has its advantages for sure, but it also has a set of challenges that really make it difficult. We’ve learned that we can do some things remotely, which is good, but there’s so much missed when you don’t have that daily interaction with your colleagues. Zoom meetings are exhausting. It’s hard to read cues from people to know when it’s OK to talk, so it’s a challenge. I miss the students – just seeing them. … Just the nature of the experience for students impacts all of us administrators, because we know that it’s not ideal. It’s not an ideal time to be in college. We do have a vaccine coming, so thank goodness.

What advice do you have for students?

My advice is to be as engaged as possible in your education, and that means in your classes but also outside of classes. Find something that you’re passionate about, and join a club. Some people come to campus already with a passion for sports or something, so they immediately have a network of people. Some people need to develop that network and the way you do it is by joining organizations, maybe sometimes through work as well. A major recommendation I have is to get out, travel, and see the world as much as you can. Take advantage of those opportunities that we have at Framingham State. Study tours, study abroad, things like that – that can be life changing for students. We can’t do that right now, but I think next year, we’ll be able to do it again, so I strongly encourage people to do that. In my college, we have courses that are taught at correctional facilities in Massachusetts, through the Inside-Out program. I strongly encourage students to do that. In those courses, you have approximately 10 Framingham State students taking classes with approximately 10 inmates at a correctional facility. These are four-credit courses, and they’re really transformational experiences for students. So, I would encourage that kind of thing, as well as just getting out there and volunteering and doing internships.

What is your favorite holiday tradition?

Each year, my family attends Black Nativity, which is produced by the National Center for Afro-American Artists (NCAAA) in Boston. This year was going to be the 50th anniversary of the performance. Sadly, this will be the first time in over 20 years that we won’t be there “live.” The NCAAA is holding a virtual 50-year anniversary gala instead, and we will be attending that.