Catching up with the new dean

Andrew P. Daire, Ph.D.Following an extensive, six-month-long national search, VCU named Dr. Andrew Daire as its next dean of the School of Education. A passionate and enthusiastic leader, who combines a background in counseling with expertise in leadership and research, Daire will officially take over the reins on June 1.

We caught up with Daire to ask him a few questions about his background, his leadership style and his plans for the School of Education.

Q: What was your reaction when you got the news that you had been selected to be our next dean here at the VCU School of Education?

Daire: I think the best way to describe how I felt was extremely excited, but also with a strong sense of humility and responsibility. I recognize how important this role is and the impact that I can have, not only in the School of Education but in the Richmond community.

Q: What attracted you to VCU and drew you to apply for this position in the first place?

Daire: It’s an interesting story because I wasn’t really on the market or job hunting, so to speak. Obviously, I have been well aware of VCU and the VCU School of Education’s strong reputation, and the more I looked into [the school and this position], the more excited I became.

What really attracted me the most is that there truly is a genuine commitment to community engagement. Community engagement is one of those sexy words you hear a lot in higher education, but not a lot of places are really committed to it. At VCU, it’s not just lip service — there’s a university-wide commitment, it’s expected of everyone and that’s exciting.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style, and why do you believe it will be a good fit for the VCU School of Education?

Daire: I’d say my leadership style is one of transformational leadership. As a leader, you need to really get to know the people you are working with. When you really understand and value everyone on your team, you also know how to motivate them and show them they are appreciated. And it’s not just a top-down approach. I want to create a culture where you — whether you are faculty, staff or a student — see the value in motivating others.

Intellectual stimulation is important as well, particularly in an academic environment. It’s important to encourage personal and professional development, and help faculty, staff and students examine how they can be more impactful in their work.

Q: A good deal of your clinical and graduate work focused on counseling. How do you feel that background helps make you a better leader?

Daire: One part of counseling that really dovetails well with my leadership style is good communication – listening to truly understand, rather than focusing on how you are going to respond.

Another aspect is the heavy emphasis on relationship development. It’s interesting: my research on strengthening couples has shown me that family systems really almost mirror organizational systems. To make progress, you have to move away from seeing problem solving as a means of placing blame and, instead, as a chance to step back, look at all aspects of a situation and really come up with a systemic solution.

Q: What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing the field of education today, and how do you plan to address these challenges at VCU?

Daire: That’s a very good question. One of the things that stands out to me is that students and schools, particularly those in urban and economically-disadvantaged communities, are really struggling right now. And as the ones that prepare teachers and others professionals that work in these schools, our effectiveness is being called into question, in some ways. We need to be able to show a value in what we do.

So I hope to lead the School of Education to develop aspirational and multidisciplinary strategies that will really make a difference in these communities. Obviously, things like our students’ GPA and GRE scores are important in how we are evaluated externally, but when you can see and really point to the positive impact you are having in the community, that’s when something special is going to happen.

Q: Because of its urban location, the VCU School of Education enjoys a unique partnership with the local communities and its schools. What challenges and advantages do you feel this provides our current students?

Daire: I believe that urban-serving universities have a responsibility — and I mean that sincerely: a responsibility — to their surrounding communities. That’s where the impact of our teaching, research and service really should be seen. In some sense, the community almost becomes the training ground, the place where innovation can be developed.

The main challenge of that (and this is not a sophisticated answer) is that it’s hard work. It takes a lot of drive and a lot of effort to make a difference in a complex community mired down with multiple systemic, multi-generational problems.

But the advantages aren’t sophisticated either: it’s just plain rewarding. It’s one thing to get an “A” grade in a class or have an article published, but having the opportunity to see the impact of the work you’ve done in the eyes of a child or a parent, there’s just something special about that.

Q: On that note, can you think of a particular teacher, mentor or educational experience that impacted or inspired you?

Daire: I think an “A-ha” moment for me came when I realized that, as a leader, the personal and professional development of your team is just a little bit more important than the work you do. I was asked to do a leadership training for the University of Central Florida when I was there, and afterwards, I realized I talked more about the culture and mentorship than I did the work itself.

In academia, I think sometimes we can get focused on numbers and grants and metrics, and not on the growth and development of our team members. The thing is: I’ve found that when you put your team first, it actually brings the quality of your work up to a much higher level as well.

Q: How important is the role alumni play in making a school of education successful? How do you plan to help build upon the current VCU School of Education alumni community?

Daire: Alumni play a very critical role in making a school or a university, or really any organization, successful. Alumni can create a valuable feedback loop into what we are doing, how we are doing it and what else needs to be done. So it’s important to maintain a close, bi-directional relationship with alumni so that we can continue to serve them and they can continue to help us grow.

In a way, alumni development is really everyone’s responsibility. How you talk about a place after you’ve left really says a lot about it, because you can truly be 100 percent transparent then. So if we, as a community, can create an impactful and powerful experience for students, it’s more likely they are going to leave feeling connected and continue to stay engaged after they graduate.

Q: Give us some insight into who Dr. Andrew Daire is – where would we be most likely to find you when you’re not in the office?

Daire: I love to cook and I love to entertain: feeding people and seeing everyone have a great time. I have a ski boat, so I love to be out on the water as well, wakeboarding and just hanging out. I love golf too, even if I’ve only played it once in the last 16 months — let me tell you, it can be hard to carve out four or five hours to play a round sometimes!

Q: Another key tenet of higher education is the importance of lifelong learning. What’s a recent book you have read or something new you’ve learned in the last year that you are proud of?

Daire: I love science, and while I know this sounds kind of dorky, what I like to read outside of work is quantum and theoretical physics. I’ll qualify that by saying that I probably understand about 15 to 25 percent of what I’m reading! But I’ve always said that if I retire, I would go back to school and get a master’s degree in theoretical physics.

Michio Kaku’s “Physics of the Impossible” is one of my favorite books, because it unpacks quantum physics in a way that a layperson can understand. In a way I can’t quite articulate just yet, there’s a part of me that sees a relationship between quantum physics and how we function with other people.

Q: Outside of just the new professional challenge, what are you most looking forward to about coming to Virginia?

Daire: I’m definitely trying to figure out what the water scene there in Richmond is like: what people do on the river there. My family and I are also looking forward to being in a location where you have access to some many different things — D.C., Virginia Beach, snow skiing in the mountains. Plus the rich history of Virginia: there’s a lot of things to explore from that perspective.

Q: Fast-forward to August 2017 – how will you yourself measure if it has been a successful first year on the job?

Daire: Well, I’m sure the provost will have very specific metrics for me! But for me, it really kind of goes back to leadership and culture. I think that, if by August 2017, there is a strong sense of culture and community at the school, and unity around a bold, aspirational and impactful purpose, that’s how I would measure success. And hopefully through that, the provost’s benchmarks will have been met as well!

Q: Finally, I’ll open the floor to you – what message do you have to our students, and why is 2016 an exciting time to be a part of the VCU School of Education?

Daire: My message is that there is something special about the VCU School of Education. I am very excited about joining that community and that family. I’m really looking forward to seeing how we can collectively identify and achieve, as a group, that next level of excellence.