Get to know the new Dean: Wesley Kisting
November 12, 2023
What drew you to UWRF?
I wanted to be at a moderately small teaching- and student-centered institution that provides a high-quality liberal arts education at an affordable price. When I found UWRF, I was immediately impressed by the consistency with which students felt the faculty and staff care about them and provide personalized mentoring to help them be successful. Then I realized that River Falls has a wonderful small-town feel with lovely people plus convenient access to a wide range of services and amenities, including outstanding artistic and cultural opportunities in the Twin Cities and a major international airport. Collectively, these and other aspects of UWRF made me realize this is a very special place with a very bright future.
What has your experience at UWRF been like?
I love it here! The people at the university and in the surrounding community are wonderful and welcoming. My family adjusted quickly and this has to be the single most livable area I’ve ever been. The community is highly active and there are so many fun things to do here. We marched in the River Falls Day Parade, saw a few movies at the charming downtown theater, visited some amazing parks, ran a few 5K races, enjoyed delicious meals at dozens of different venues between here and Minneapolis, visited the local breweries and distilleries, cheered on the Fighting Fish to a thrillingly-close victory over Hudson, nibbled on fresh cheese curds at the Ellsworth Creamery, volunteered to serve food at the Pierce County Fair, went on a delightful bus tour to visit a half dozen small town bars that all featured outstanding local bands, visited IKEA and the Mall of America, watched The Importance of Being Earnest at the Guthrie Theater, scaled the climbing wall at UWRF’s Falcon Center, enjoyed live music at UWRF’s Summer Concert Series and Frances Cohler Coffee Concert Series, viewed the night sky from UWRF’s observatory, and watched Lucette and Night of the Living Dead in UWRF’s Davis Theatre. The full list is much longer—and we’ve only been in town for a little over four months!
What are your future goals for your respective colleges?
My goal is to help the College of Arts and Sciences continue to grow and build on its already-impressive reputation for academic excellence. I think UWRF has enormous potential to be a leading national model for what Higher Education can, and should, aspire to be. I see it as an ideal place where, because faculty and staff care so much about students and are teaching-centered, there is an extraordinary opportunity to experiment and innovate in ways that are quite unlikely at larger, more research-oriented institutions. Increasing the variety and type of interdisciplinary pathways is particularly important, not only because interdisciplinary study is truer to the original spirit and intent of liberal arts education, but also because our technologies now influence and segregate society in ways that renew our need for flexible, creative thinkers—people able to think across silos and connect bodies of knowledge that, over time, have become too narrowly confined to specific fields or majors. I’d love for CAS to be a place where students are challenged to synthesize important lessons and ideas from across the gamut of the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.
What are the current challenges facing your college?
The most significant challenges right now are financial. The COVID-19 pandemic and other factors led to declines in enrollment which, in turn, mean fewer resources to invest in what we hope to offer for our students. That doesn’t mean we can’t innovate, but it does mean we are forced to make difficult decisions about which efforts to prioritize and which ones may need to be discontinued for lack of funding. This is especially true at an institution that has been as remarkably financially responsible as UWRF because, by running lean and investing so heavily in the student experience, we have less “cushioning” to cut when tuition revenue drops. Most of what we do here is student-centered, so any reduction in funding raises serious questions about how to make sure we sustain the most important experiences we offer to our students.
What's one thing you really like and one thing you would like to change at UWRF?
My favorite thing about UWRF continues to be our faculty/staff’s truly outstanding commitment to providing “a culture of care for every Falcon.” That phrase, from UWRF’s vision statement, really stood out to me when I was looking for an institution I’d like to be part of, and now that I’ve been here awhile, I see that it is an excellent encapsulation of the way people feel about what makes UWRF special. Students consistently tell me it is the caring nature of our faculty and staff that brought them here, and that keeps them here.
If I could change one thing, I would change the fact that we are a “hidden gem.” I know we offer a gem of an experience, but I’d love it if more people knew about the wonderful experience they can have here! I’m a father of three daughters and I would gladly send my girls to school here. I’m certain that if more people knew how special UWRF is, they would choose to come here too!