Introducing the President's Cabinet
Meet our newest campus leaders
by Autumn Thatcher (MSC ’15)
photography by Hudson Schmucker (’20)
It’s the second year of Bethami Dobkin’s presidency at Westminster College, and she is feeling good. Throughout her first year at the institution, President Dobkin had much to do in filling leadership roles that either had been vacated for new opportunities or were interim positions. But President Dobkin began the 2019–20 academic year with her leadership team (called President’s Cabinet) established. Westminster welcomed three new vice presidents, one interim vice president—a position occupied by faculty member and former diversity fellow Tamara Stevenson, EdD—and a new provost to campus. These individuals come from varying backgrounds; all have strong experience in their fields and a commitment and enthusiasm to elevate Westminster’s presence in the higher ed community.
President Dobkin, along with the board of trustees, conducted a national search to fill the positions of vice president for institutional advancement, vice president of enrollment management, chief information officer, and provost. Dean of students Karnell McConnell-Black served in an interim role as vice president of student affairs, and in the spring of this year, President Dobkin announced to a room full of booming applause and shouts of enthusiasm that he had accepted the offer to occupy the role in a permanent position.
“When we were considering candidates for these roles, we wanted to make sure that we built on the strengths of who we already have,” President Dobkin says. “We have fantastic people who are here that have been part of the team already. And everyone coming in needed to demonstrate commitment to and passion for the Westminster educational experience. I wanted people who understand both the enduring value of the liberal arts foundation along with the technical skills that are needed for adaptive and flexible leadership.”
President’s Cabinet has 11 leaders on it from various administrative roles on campus. “We have a lot we are trying to achieve operationally as well as strategically. That is why the cabinet is very large,” President Dobkin explains. “We have not added positions; we have simply brought more people into the same room so that we can have a shared idea about how to accomplish our goals.”
We talked to the newest members of President’s Cabinet to introduce them to our alumni and provide insight into their professional experiences and what they are excited to bring to Westminster. Visit westminsteru.edu/cabinet to read about those President’s Cabinet members who have been serving alongside President Dobkin since her arrival and helped in the search processes over the past year.
Peter Greco, MS
Chief Information Officer
Peter Greco joined Westminster in June of this year with 32 years of IT experience in higher education at the liberal arts institutions Lewis & Clark College, Regis University, and Saint Mary’s College. “I really believe in not just the path of liberal arts education and what it’s come to mean today, but the future in terms of the ability to cross disciplines for students who will graduate and become employees in a workforce where, more than ever, we need people with problem-solving skills who can address problems that are unprecedented, who can embrace change based on a broad perspective of global human condition,” Peter says.
Technology and the liberal arts
“In 2019 and moving forward, a liberal arts, whole-person education addressing the human condition around the world is very much modified by—some would say disrupted by—the existence of continued development of information technology. The ways that people communicate, learn, teach, and come to understand the world are very affected by the things information technology brings to the table. As a citizen of the world, when you engage, you are probably going to use some form of information technology, at least in part. At a very fundamental level in higher education, our mission has to be to provide people with the tools, knowledge, and approach to what is increasingly a journey without a map. A Westminster education should include the benefit of both the utility and opportunity made possible by information technology.”
Vice President of Enrollment Management
Erica Johnson joined Westminster in July of this year. The 2018 recipient of the Pacific Northwest Association for College Admission Counseling’s Excellence in Admissions Award, Erica brings 20 years of admissions enrollment experience at Lewis & Clark College, where she earned her undergraduate degree. “My head, heart, and career have always been on a small college campus,” Erica says. “I feel really strongly about the work that we can do and the way that we serve students when we are in a space that’s relationship-based.”
Reaching prospective students
“Our job in admissions is not to craft college policy or influence how a department teaches its courses or what a student-life experience looks like. Our job is to take all of the amazing things that current students encounter on a daily basis and authentically tell those stories to prospective students. I see us as being the office that represents what students accomplish on campus and is here to help potential students imagine if those same kinds of experiences fit what they’re looking for in their college experience. Enrollment work is a privilege and, in some ways, it’s a noble profession. We get to work with students at enormous transition points in their lives. We aid them in deciding if that future involves this campus and this community. We have to be mindful and aware of the sacrifices that students and families make in order to access a Westminster education. I feel strongly about that, and I take the job and the responsibility that we’ve been given seriously.”
Vice President for Institutional Advancement
Daniel joined Westminster in June of this year after working in advancement for 21 years at the University of San Francisco and Saint Mary’s College, where he earned his undergraduate degree. A first-generation college student, Daniel has a deep appreciation for the ways in which the generosity of alumni, parents, and friends can change a student’s life. “I developed a significant appreciation for each gift made that, collectively, changed students’ abilities to continue pursuing their educational aspirations,” Daniel says. “Today, I feel privileged to continue this work: helping students at Westminster receive the opportunities they are poised to seize. Every donor and every gift—no matter the size—make the mission of Westminster happen for our students today.”
“All members of Westminster’s community can make a difference in our ability to provide the bright future our students and faculty deserve. Everybody knows somebody who isn’t as engaged as they could be, and this is the moment to begin that conversation. The majority of people loved their Westminster experience—the connection they had with faculty and friends—and they think of it quite often. With so much to share and be proud of, it is time to embrace this momentum by continuing to steward our generous donors and volunteers and developing new and lasting relationships that will chart the course of our future aspirations. We want everybody to be a part of the future of Westminster and have a role in its success.”
Karnell McConnell-Black, MeD,
Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students
Karnell McConnell-Black’s storied history with Westminster began over eight years ago, when he joined the Dean of Students Office in the assistant director of student involvement and orientation role. Since then, Karnell has moved into the position of assistant dean of students and, more recently, to vice president of student affairs and dean of students. In his current role, Karnell’s practice is informed by the synergies required to navigate external demands on the educational enterprise while framing the student experience as the formative foundation of institutional success. “It is my personal responsibility that every student has an opportunity to be deeply engaged in both the academic and co-curricular experiences of the college,” Karnell says.
Creating a holistic student experience
“While our students may have different interpretations of success, I believe that their success is grounded in a renewed sense of self, supported by a thriving community of learners, and fulfilled by their purpose and calling in this world. It is important to articulate across campus the unique value that each student brings to our campus community. My vision for this role is twofold: to serve as an exemplar of authentic leadership and to create a holistic student experience. It is not only the institution’s responsibility but is also the responsibility of the alumni community to provide support for this exceptional student experience that changes the lives of folks. This role requires an entire campus community to be committed to the success of our students.”
Tamara Stevenson, EdD
Interim Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer
Tamara Stevenson joined Westminster in 2012 as a postdoctoral teaching fellow in speech communication; she joined the full-time faculty as an assistant professor in communication the following year. As a first-generation college student, Tamara was able to attend Wayne State University through a full academic scholarship designed to diversify print and broadcast newsrooms. Diversity has been a cornerstone of her education and career. “The chief diversity officer’s (CDO) role serves as the college’s consciousness to celebrate our strengths, identify and act on areas of improvement and opportunity, and collaborate amongst campus groups to create and maintain an optimal learning environment for all,” Tamara says.
Diversity at the forefront
“The CDO role is a necessary and vital component in cultivating a healthy and inclusive campus culture and climate. Part of the work of the CDO is to expose and illuminate gaps and opportunities between the college’s culture and campus. My goal for this role is to crystallize, demystify, and give concrete formation to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Westminster. In this role, I seek to preserve the best of times of Westminster—who and what we are—and to learn and improve from the times when our campus culture has been less than inclusive, which is why I’ve adopted this tagline to represent my approach to successfully fulfilling this role: ‘learning from the past, listening in the present, living for a better future.’”
Debbie Tahmassebi, PhD
Debbie Tahmassebi, PhD, joins Westminster from Santa Clara University, where she served as professor and dean of arts and sciences for four years. Prior to becoming dean at Santa Clara, Debbie was a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of San Diego (USD) for 18 years, part of that time as the department chair. Debbie fell in love with the liberal arts approach while teaching there. “While a faculty member at USD, I realized that as a student myself, I would have truly thrived had I had the small liberal arts college experience as an undergraduate,” Debbie says. “Being on a comprehensive campus that is very student centric and committed to the liberal arts is really being true to who I am. That is clearly the Westminster campus.”
“Westminster College is very committed to supporting student learning and growth. President Dobkin has laid out a commitment to academic excellence, a diverse and inclusive environment, and better highlighting of the Westminster campus to the community and potential students. I am excited to partner with her and others on this important work. The leadership needs to work with students, faculty, and staff to emphasize and resource what’s most important: providing excellent experiences for students inside and outside of the classroom. The best decisions are made when you’re listening—and I enjoy working collaboratively. I like to engage others in conversation and listen to and consider a variety of opinions and perspectives.”
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.