McArthur gets a new assistant dean

Words decorate the office in big capital letters: PASSION, RISK, DRIVE, PRIORITIES, OPPORTUNITY and SUCCESS.

The blonde at the desk, Deborah Casey-Powell, needs all these things to fulfill the many roles in her life: single mother of a 5-year-old daughter; dean of student affairs and compliance officer at South University in West Palm Beach; published author; public speaker; teacher; mentor; advisor; committee-board-council member seven times over; chairperson; grant team member and researcher…and these only begin the list. Casey-Powell, 37, is a lot of power packed into a petite package.

Now Casey-Powell will be occupying and decorating a new office at Florida Atlantic University: with the start of the Fall Semester, Casey-Powell is Director of Student Affairs for the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College at FAU’s John D. MacArthur Campus in Jupiter.

Casey-Powell knows something about being a student at FAU. And like everything else she does, Casey-Powell is a student with high achievements. She is in FAU’s doctoral program for educational leadership at the Davie campus, where she is both one of 10 recipients of the Dr. Daniel B. and Aurel B. Newell Doctoral Fellowship and one of 11 recipients of the FAU Graduate Fellowship for Academic Excellence. Her Newell Fellowship has just been renewed for the 2004/2005 academic year.

“Graduate academic leaders got the Board of Trustees to use $50,000 of tuition-increase money to establish the Graduate Fellowship for Academic Excellence,” according to Stephen Todish, FAU’s Director of the Office of Graduate Studies. Casey-Powell was in the first group to receive the $5,000 non-renewable award. The Newell endowment began over a decade ago. “I waited at the mailbox like an undergrad,” Casey-Powell admits, sitting at the conference table with hands folded primly, posture perfect, wearing a medium-blue suit and light blue blouse. When she received the first award letter, she felt excited and honored. When the second letter came, she again felt excited and honored, but also a little guilty – for just a minute. “Gee, I hope I didn’t take this from someone else,” she says she thought at the time.

Of course she had, but the two selection committees would have been unaware they had chosen the same candidate, says Todish.

While earning a Master of Science degree at Springfield College in Massachusetts, Casey-Powell served as a residential director in exchange for tuition. Before that, she paid in-state tuition at Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts, and she considers it money well spent. “My present commitment to the students and my personality are very much connected to my undergraduate experience,” she says. “There was the expectation that you give back to your community through academic success and giving. I’ve tried to do that everywhere I’ve gone.”

And Casey-Powell has been quite a few places. With Associate of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees from Anna Maria College, at Springfield College she completed not only the M.S. but also a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Counseling Psychology and Student Personnel Administration. For the next five years, Casey-Powell was on the faculty and staff of schools in Massachusetts, making frequent golf trips to Florida.

She eliminated the traveling when she became coordinator of housing at the University of Florida in 1995. After four years, the dean recruited her for Assistant Dean for Students with Disabilities.

Each time Casey-Powell has changed direction she has sought out appropriate mentors as needed. “One of my big goals is to mentor others to develop leadership,” she says. Her mentors have empowered her to take risks, so she passes the wisdom to others. Her advice is, “Take the risk. It’s important to look at the big picture. What will this do for you?”

One risk Casey-Powell took was applying to a University of Washington disabilities project called DO-IT after she moved from Housing to Disabilities at the University of Florida. Al Souma, counselor of Disability Support Services at Seattle Central Community College, was on the advisory board that chose her and became a mentor to her. “Her resume didn’t really show a background in disabilities,” Souma recalls, “but there was a joie de vivre about her work that came through. She was very green, but in three years she has picked things up so quickly that she’s presented at national conventions of 6,000 people, to deans and presidents in higher learning.” Souma believes Casey-Powell will make significant contributions to the field. “At a DO-IT meeting,” he says, “Deb said we need to teach administrators what we were then teaching faculty. Three months later the grant writer who was at the meeting sent out a memo that she was writing a grant proposal for a new program that used Deb’s idea. Deb agreed when I said, ‘She wrote that based on what you said,’ but she had no problem with not getting credit, aslong as the idea reached her peers.” Add GENEROSITY to the slogans on her wall.

Another word in her office was a gift from the academic honor society she led at the University of Florida: PASSION. “FAU fits my educational goals,” Casey-Powell says. “I’m passionate about this! It has the program, I can work full-time while in school, and I can finish in three years if I stay on track.” Associate Professor Dr. Deborah Floyd, Casey-Powell’s doctoral professor, writes, “Deborah definitely will complete her degree according to her plans, thanks to the fellowship.” “Everyone who knows me knows there’s no doubt I’ll finish in three years,” says Casey-Powell. PERSISTENCE could be another word on her wall.

Her original reasons for being at FAU have changed, however, to writing for publication, making scholarly presentations, and national networking. “I’ve been mentored by my faculty to these things,” says Casey-Powell. “She is a single parent who juggles a full-time job, her university studies full-time and also manages to stay current in her field,” writes Dr. Floyd, “by presenting at conferences and publishing.”

Casey-Powell has already presented at over 100 conferences, edited a book, and co-authored a book chapter. Souma remembers, “As we worked together, Deb said, ‘We should be writing this stuff up.’ She connected with the right people and we published jointly. It’s nice when the mentee pushes the mentor to the edge of his boundaries, and she’s done that for me. In comparison, she’s doing so much more – school, work, mothering. She pushes herself to the limits of her comfort zone, and then pushes out further. In that experience is where fertile growth is found, but it’s also scary.” Another sign is missing from her wall: COURAGE.

If GOALS were on that wall, the small print might read “Vice-president of Student Affairs, teaching at the graduate level and mentoring professionals.” Casey-Powell is already teaching and mentoring the students at South University, and says she is learning as much as the students are. “Mentoring is about reflecting on experience,” she says, “and reframing it to fit [both] the individuals in the process.”

Casey-Powell says she is “constantly in the learning process.” She is happy to be learning at FAU, and not only because she has received fellowships that enable her to do so. “I would not select another program in the country to be in. I’ve had the best educational experience here. The faculty is hands-on, they are scholars, they treat you as a colleague.” Add GRATITUDE to the wall.

“How can I uphold the honor of being the recipient?” she asks herself. “How do I reflect that back? By being published, by attending national conferences, by putting FAU’s name out there.” She has made FAU a partner in the new DO-IT project as an expression of her appreciation, and it feels very natural to her. “I’m doing what I need to be doing, serving the community,” she says. “It’s my calling, my vocation.” Her PASSION.