Dr. Kimberly Dean Named Rosemary and Walter Blankley Endowed Chair in Education at Arcadia University

By Daniel DiPrinzio | April 15, 2022

Dr. Dean’s proposal to reimagine the ways higher education might support and enhance emotional wellness, social connection and coping skills in students

Dr. Kim Deal

Dr. Kimberly Dean, assistant professor of Education, has been named Arcadia University’s next Rosemary and Walter Blankley Endowed Chair in Education; the three-year term runs from the 2022-2023 to the 2024-2025 academic year. 

Dr. Dean’s proposal, “Expanding Capacity through Connection: Disability, Mental Health and Inclusion,” aims to build and enhance Arcadia’s existing networks of support for students’ development of social-emotional wellness and mental health literacy.

The proposal
Dr. Dean plans to pursue her goals through the following initiatives:

  • Evaluating and updating the Raising Expectations for Academic Learning (REAL) Certificate program to most effectively meet students’ needs. The REAL Certificate allows students with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities to audit undergraduate courses and participate in other aspects of university life at Arcadia.
  • Develop an innovative School of Education certificate program designed to address the current need for teachers’ development of expertise in social-emotional wellness and mental health literacy. 
  • Research infusing emotional skill development and community connection into both the academic and non-academic Arcadia curriculum and exploring enhanced collaboration with the university-wide network of units dedicated to support student success by convening representatives of the various student touchpoints on campus and imagining how Arcadia might optimize current efforts to most effectively impact Arcadia students’ experiences and assure that everyone feels connected and supported (e.g., Center for Teaching, Learning, and Mentoring [CTLM]; Office of International Programs; Resident Life; Disability Support Services; Learning Resources Network; Counseling Services)

“Arcadia University is a special community with great potential to welcome and support the increasingly diverse student population of college age students,” said Dr. Dean. “Living up to our promise requires mobilizing the staff, student and faculty talent, expertise, and enthusiasm to innovate in how we address all students’ needs.” 

Dr. Dean’s work as Blankley Chair would combine several threads of her scholarship and program development. She spent many years supporting K-12 school-wide prevention programming designed to enhance students’ coping and social-emotional wellness.  Bringing this lens to the college campus is a critical need and Dr. Dean’s recent efforts include her work in inclusive higher education (IHE) and collaboration with the Youth Suicide Prevention and Trauma-informed Practices for Pre-service Educators in Pennsylvania Grant through the McDowell Institute, which seeks to improve mental health literacy and expand suicide prevention through teacher education programs and campus wide mental health literacy. 

Her specific objectives include having every Arcadia student-teacher undergo “Mental Health First Aid” — a suicide prevention training — and providing every pre-service teacher with in-depth experience and training in trauma-informed classrooms.

“This proposal seeks to jump onto the wave of energy currently focused on student success at Arcadia with a particular focus on mental health literacy, social-emotional competence…and inclusive practices,” Dr. Dean says.

The need
Dr. Dean points to an increasing need for the kinds of skills and support she hopes to expand at Arcadia.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 19 percent of post-secondary students report having a disability. The largest share of students identified attention-deficit disorder (ADD) as their primary disability, followed by depression (17 percent) and mental, emotional, or psychiatric conditions (14 percent).

The growth in the number of students seeking disability services at Arcadia over the past five years is consistent with national trends. Similarly, Arcadia, like all institutions, has experienced a dramatic increase in the need for mental health services for students. 

Even before the added intensity of COVID-19 and the post-George Floyd Black Lives Matter movement, rates of student mental health crises and use of counseling services had  significantly increased over the past 10 years. Nearly 40 percent of college students reported using medication and/or therapy services in 2019, up from 22 percent in 2009. About 64 percent of students who screen positive for mental health symptoms are not receiving formal care. 

Doing a better job
Dr. Dean asks: How can the University do a better job of offering coaching in the kinds of life skills that new college students lack? Examples range from meeting and starting conversations with new people to coping with getting critical feedback from professors and building networks of support. When Dr. Dean wrote the project proposal, she had no idea that the importance of mental health literacy and social-emotional wellness would be among the highest priorities facing educational leaders at all levels.   

“How might we think more broadly, more creatively, about some of this social-emotional positive coping as part of our curriculum?” Dr. Dean, who plans to research and visit relevant programs at other universities, asks. “We certainly have to think about academic development, but we are also interested in the whole student. This is a way for me to develop my knowledge and expertise related to the research but also to bring it to the whole community in terms of helping Arcadia to support the development of the next generation of leaders.”

About Dr. Dean
Dr. Dean joined the faculty at Arcadia in 2005. Prior to that, she worked for nearly ten years in private practice as a psychologist at the Child Development Center at Tampa Children’s Hospital, where she conducted school consultation, social skills therapy groups, and individual and family therapy. 

Dr. Dean has published on educational inclusivity, the value of problem-based STEM for struggling learners, and transformative learning through arts-based approaches. Her research interests include social-emotional learning (SEL), the power of social connection, and effective supports for children with developmental disabilities and their families. Dr. Dean is currently the Director of Special Education and served as chair of the School of Education at Arcadia University from 2017 to 2020.

The 2019-2022 Blankley Chair, Dr. Marc Brasof
Dr. Marc Brasof, associate professor of Education and director of Secondary Social Studies and English Education, completes his tenure as Blankley Chair this academic year. As Blankley Chair, Dr. Brasof worked to address the nationwide shortage of educators of color by recruiting and retaining fellows at Arcadia that lead schools, programs, and educational opportunities geared toward diversity, equity, and social justice. Dr. Brasof used a portion of the funding to grant 10 University-subsidized Social Action and Justice Education (SAJE) Fellowships. Three fellowships covered tuition and housing completely, while seven provided a 70-percent discount on the cost of attendance. To date, the fellowship has recruited 17 students into the teacher certification.

Funding was also used to create important social and academic supports for fellows such as a culturally responsive peer mentorship program for first-year fellows, socials, and monthly Power Conversations where the entire SAJE organization comes together to discuss current social justice education issues in the nation.  Additionally, funding has supported the development of the SAJE Leadership Team, a leadership body of faculty, staff, and students who meet monthly to discuss central issues and opportunities for the SAJE Fellowship. 

About the Rosemary and Walter Blankley Endowed Chair in Education
The Rosemary and Walter Blankley Endowed Chair in Education is designed to support the research and projects of selected faculty members and enhance the experience of students within the School of Education. Recipients of the chair have been Dr. Marc Brasof (2019-2022), Dr. Kira J. Baker-Doyle (2017-2019), and Dr. Ellen Skilton (2014-2017).