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Q&A with the new dean for the College of Arts and Sciences

Photo courtesy of Shaily Menon, Ph.D..
Charley Rekstis
Written by Charley Rekstis

Shaily Menon, Ph.D., was named the new Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at Saint Joseph’s University on June 28, 2017.

Menon lived in Bombay, India where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology at St. Xavier’s College. She then studied at Ohio State University and earned an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in anthropology, natural resources and zoology. After that she studied at University of Massachusetts, Boston where she was a postdoctoral fellow in conservation biology.

Before becoming the Dean for CAS at St. Joe’s, Menon was the associate dean for Facilities Planning, Research and Community Engagement for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

How do you feel about being the new dean for the College of Arts and Sciences at St. Joe’s?

I am excited and honored to join St. Joe’s as the new CAS dean. St. Joe’s goal of ensuring the centrality of the arts and sciences in its academic mission aligns with my passion and commitment. The university community has been working together to create a forward-looking plan for advancing the university and its mission. The strategic plan and its guiding principles of excellence, innovation and collaboration resonate with me. The commitment to social justice and the opportunity to be a part of transforming the university and the region resonates with my passion for supporting the public purposes of higher education.

Why did you choose to apply for the position of dean at St. Joe’s? What made it appealing to you?

My entire career in higher education and my work at the university and in the community have been fueled by my conviction in the value of a liberal education for students and for society. St. Joe’s commitment to social justice, service learning and community engagement aligns with my own belief in the importance of this work. My passion in this area is fueled by the conviction that many of the current and future societal challenges, sometimes described as “wicked problems,” require interdisciplinary thinking and integration between disciplines. I am inspired to partner with St. Joe’s in its mission to help students develop moral discernment and to equip them with the tools to live out a transformative commitment to social justice.

What most excited you about St. Joe’s?

I truly enjoyed meeting the people at St. Joe’s including students, faculty, staff and administrators. I was touched by the warm and welcoming interactions and by the commitment of the faculty and staff to the students and the institution.

What are you going to do to enhance the College of Arts and Sciences? How do you want to see the college change?

I embrace the responsibility of promoting the value of a liberal arts education in a Jesuit environment and working collaboratively to advance the strategic goals of the university and college. I am interested in exploring initiatives that bring together various disciplines to solve complex, real-world problems, and help students and faculty engage in collaborative and creative problem solving to benefit their communities and their own learning.

How are you going to incorporate the Jesuit ideals that you learned while you studied at St. Xavier’s College into what you want to do at St. Joe’s?

True to its motto, St. Xavier’s College encouraged me to fly and I learned about the Jesuit ideals of caring for the whole person — mind, body and spirit — and encouraging students to become well ­rounded and contribute to the greater good. A liberal arts education prepares students to be more engaged in the world around them, to be problem solvers and work toward a larger purpose. My work at St. Joe’s would be guided by the Jesuit ideals of integrating contemplation and action, so that students have well­-developed and reflective minds, and a desire to work toward a more just and humane world.

What kind of partnership do you think the College of Arts and Sciences and the Erivan K. Haub School of Business (HSB) can have?

I think that CAS and HSB can work collaboratively on many fruitful and innovative partnerships. We could explore research projects, curricular programs and experiential learning opportunities that would allow students and faculty to engage in interdisciplinary, collaborative and creative problem solving. I enjoyed my conversations with Dean [Joseph] DiAngelo [Ed.D.] during my campus visit and look forward to collaborations and partnerships with him and faculty, staff, and students in CAS and HSB.

How are you going to improve inclusion and diversity within the community?

I will partner closely with the Office of Inclusion and Diversity to further St. Joe’s commitment to improve inclusion and diversity. My own dedication to such an important commitment is reflected in my experiences at the university and in the community. For example, I have worked on grants to increase the participation of underrepresented faculty and students in the sciences and engineering, and co-chaired a diversity initiative in the local community.

What are some issues you want to start working on at St. Joe’s?

One of the main tasks at the start is completing and implementing the strategic plan at the college and department levels. I would have conversations with people across the university to understand the needs and possibilities and to brainstorm ideas for innovative curricular programming and experiential learning for students.

If you could teach a course on campus what would it be?

I would teach Environmental Ethics because it is multidisciplinary, has collaboration and problem-solving components and explicitly connects to issues of sustainability, environmental problems and the need to develop a global environmental ethic.

What in Philadelphia are you most looking forward to exploring?

I’d like to explore all the historical sites, museums and the Reading Terminal Market. I’ve been struck by how many colleagues here have connections with Philadelphia and moved by the fond memories they’ve been sharing. With great fondness, a colleague drew me a map of neighborhoods to explore around St. Joe’s and another colleague wrote, “My fondest memories are the Baldwin locomotive factory and the big heart that you could walk through in the Franklin Institute, but I never did get to the Mutter Museum, so one of these days I may look you up and see if you want to check it out too.”

Menon will officially start on Hawk Hill on Aug. 1, 2017.

About the author

Charley Rekstis

Charley Rekstis

Charley Rekstis, ’20, News Editor

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