Interview with Dean Yohnk, new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
October 1, 2018
The 2018-2019 academic year has welcomed many new faces to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls campus. One of these new faces is the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Dean Yohnk. Yohnk previously spent time as the dean of academic affairs and graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Superior for two years before deciding to move south to River Falls.
Yohnk began his professional experience in post-secondary academics as a theatre professor almost 30 years ago. During his time at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Yohnk was chair of the theater department for ten years, he then moved onto work as a theater professor at University of Wisconsin-Parkside for nearly ten years. Then in 2010, Yohnk was asked by UW-Parkside to become the Dean of Arts and Sciences, which gave him the responsibility of overseeing 32 of the 34 total academic departments.
In 2014, Yohnk applied for the position of Dean CEO at the University of Wisconsin-Barron County, so he could have a job where he was closer to his family. Yohnk remained at UW-Barron County for two and a half years, then when the UW system had smaller colleges merge, Yohnk applied for the Dean job at UW-Superior where he was Dean of Academic Affairs of Graduate Studies for two years. Which leads up to his arrival at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
Yohnk had several reasons for coming to UW-River Falls from UW-Superior, the first of which was so he could be closer to family once again. Yohnk stated, “I have been aware of the great work that the faculty and staff do with students at UW-River Falls. Twenty-five years ago I made my first visit to campus to see a theater production here and evaluated for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. From that time, I had seen that great show, I was able to remain in contact with various faculty and staff and leaders from UW-River Falls. I was always impressed at the work they were achieving with students. I think it’s an excellent university with faculty and staff that are really dedicated to student success, student learning, students achieving their goals during their time here and after graduation.”
Yohnk spoke also on what he likes about River Falls as a town, stating, “I think the campus is very, very beautiful. I find River Falls to be a nice small town near a very large, great city. I think I’m really taking advantage that I can live in a small town with a relatively large university which has a great spirit to it. Then within a half hour I can be in one of the most exciting cultural metropolitan areas in the center of the country.”
As the new Dean of College of Arts and Sciences, Yohnk’s duties are to work with faculty and staff to make sure they are providing the best possible array of programs, with the best courses, taught by the best instructors. As Dean of this College, Yohnk’s goal is to be constantly saying, “What do students need in order to be successful? To learn, to grow, to develop, and to achieve successful lives and the careers they are seeking? For me, I’m very student focused. So, when we’re talking about how we innovate and change our programs, how we might update our curriculum. It’s always going to be about what will prepare students for their future lives and careers. Which we may not even know now.”
With the future always being uncertain, especially today with the ever-developing technologies, Yohnk intertwines these facts with his goals for what he wants to do as Dean of College of Arts and Sciences of this university. “My goal as Dean is to make sure we give you the critical skills, whether it’s reading, writing, effective communication skills in all modes. Critical thinking, creative problem-solving skills that you can apply in all the jobs you are likely to have in your life. So, we cannot train you for a job, because we don’t know what the job may be for you. My idea is that we’re always trying to give the skills for whatever jobs you have going forward.”
Having only spent a few months at UW-River Falls, Yohnk spoke on his time adjusting to his new job on campus. “Very well. People have been very friendly, very welcoming, very helpful in explaining unique processes, procedures, and traditions here, so I feel like I’m settling in very well.”
In addition to his role of working with faculty and staff on how they can improve student learning outcome, Yohnk spoke on secondary roles with his job as Dean stating, “One of the things the Dean does is serves as a representative to the community, presents at various campus and community functions, giving more information about the college and programs in the college. The new science, technology, and innovation center that is being proposed – it is making its way through the approval phases in the state. Once that gets approved in the next budget, part of my job will change greatly to help in the facilitation and construction of the new science, technology, and innovation center.”
Finally, Yohnk spoke on advice he had for college students and how to get through the ropes of college life. “My advice to students would be to continually explore and try to learn more about the areas that you are passionate about. I really think as the older I get, the more I think about how college is a great opportunity for students to not do what their parents want them to do, not do what they think they should do in order to be successful. Instead, to really take some time to reflect upon what their gifts, skills, interest, and passion are. So, it’s really about asking what do you see yourself doing, not what do you think you’ll be. I do meet with students all the time and I am going to be forming a Dean’s advisory council for the college, which will have one representative from each of the departments in the college.”
If any student would like to meet with Dean Yohnk, he is located on the first floor of Kleinpell Fine Arts, room 136d, and has open office hours Monday-Friday from 8:15-8:45 a.m. and 4:00-4:45 p.m.