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Marlene Moore, College of Liberal Arts deanMarlene Moore, College of Liberal Arts dean


VIDEO: Marlene Moore discusses the value of a Willamette education. (1:00)

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College of Liberal Arts dean works to improve higher education quality and access

A new face is at the helm of the Willamette University College of Liberal Arts this fall — but she's no stranger to running a liberal arts program.

Marlene Moore comes to the CLA dean position after 34 years at the University of Portland, 11 of which she served as dean of their College of Arts and Sciences.

She has a scientific background, with a liberal arts bachelor's degree in biology from the University of St. Thomas and a PhD in human anatomy from Baylor College of Medicine. She taught biology for many of her years in Portland.

But she also brings an interdisciplinary approach to her work, along with a deep understanding of the challenges facing an increasing segment of Willamette's population: first-generation college students.

That's because she was one herself. Growing up in rural Texas in a family of modest means, Moore was not encouraged to seek higher education. If it hadn't been for supportive high school counselors and generous scholarships, she might never have made it to where she is today.

Her background led her to devote her career to improving access to higher education — a passion she brings to Willamette.

Q: What is your background as a professor and administrator?

"After completing a postdoctoral position at Oregon Health & Science University, I accepted a position at University of Portland teaching undergraduate pre-med and nursing students. I enjoyed being able to take the educational opportunities that had been given to me and make those real for other students.

"I worked there as a science faculty member and advisor for 18 years, and I continually accepted leadership positions. In those roles, I tried to improve science education and make it more engaging for all our students — helping them succeed after graduation by preparing them for grants, graduate school and jobs. Later, in my position as dean, I focused on accomplishing these goals for all the disciplines."

Q: Why did you want to come to Willamette?

"Willamette has a tremendous reputation for academic excellence, and I was impressed with the quality of the student body and the faculty. The faculty are not only distinguished, contributing scholars in their disciplines, but they also are dedicated to their students' success.

"I was also drawn to Willamette's motto, ‘Not unto ourselves alone are we born.' That resonated so closely with my personal value system. The goal of graduating people of passion and purpose speaks to my heart."

Q: What do you believe are Willamette's strengths?

"Willamette is strong for its interdisciplinary nature. People here are good at addressing complex, real-world issues through the lenses of their own disciplines, while also valuing the perspectives that other disciplines provide. Our challenges in today's world are so complex that only by working together and examining the perspectives of all the disciplines can we really find the best solutions.

"We offer many enriching educational opportunities — undergraduate research, community-based learning, study abroad and the ability to work closely with professors through small classes — that give students the experiences they need to succeed in the real world.

"Willamette also has a wonderful tradition of people who are dedicated to the same vision, and who have worked toward improving the quality of this institution. Current and past faculty, alumni, trustees and administrators have all been united by the vision of educating for personal and social responsibility."

Q: Why is a Willamette liberal arts education valuable?

"When we educate in the liberal arts at Willamette, we emphasize enduring truths — the things that persist no matter what is happening in society — and we teach people how to solve problems and how to innovate. That's because we are educating for a world that doesn't yet exist — we don't know how the world might change. We graduate people who are going to be gifts to the world in the future."

Q: What strengths do you bring to Willamette?

"I am a strategic thinker — I love to learn and to gather information, analyze it and decide on a course of action. My major strength is that I am a person who executes. I love taking ideas and turning them into reality, and I work very hard to make that happen."

Q: What do you hope to accomplish at Willamette?

"Three major issues facing higher education in the U.S. today are access, affordability and accountability. Improving the success rate of students is another challenge. We have to address all of these issues at a time when resources are more limited.

"My approach to tackling these tough issues is to ask, ‘How can we face these hard realities and find a better way to do what we're doing?' The first thing I noticed when I came here was that students were frustrated with our scheduling and registration process. We have hired a new position and put an associate dean in charge of this process as we work with the faculty and registrar's office to improve the situation.

"We also will continue work this year on earning reaccreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. The accreditation process is like an interview — someone asks us what is special about Willamette, what we care about, what kind of resources we are devoting to that, and whether we are making progress. This is something that will involve all of us in a great deal of reflection and conversation.

"In general, student success involves understanding what today's students need, how to motivate them, how to encourage them, and how to challenge them to be the best people they can possibly be. With a Willamette education, we want more than their personal fulfillment. We want them to graduate mobilized and ready to serve society."