A Natural Progression to Administration: Meet the Associate Dean

Sean Walker, Ph.D., became associate dean of the College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics in January 2019, just about a year before the COVID-19 pandemic changed operations across the campus.

The entrance to California State Fullerton

One of the problems he stepped up to solve during the pandemic was how campus deliveries would get to departments and the faculty and student researchers when the initial lockdown happened.

Associate Dean WalkerFor months, Walker, affectionately dubbed “the Mailman,” drove to shipping and receiving, loaded the mail into his Prius, and delivered it to the College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics. He developed a system of photographing packages and sending email to NSM faculty and staff, alerting them of important deliveries. Walker is really grateful to the mailroom, shipping and receiving, and NSM staff who have worked collaboratively throughout the pandemic to make deliveries to the college.

In those early days of COVID-19, Walker was focused on how to keep doing what needed to be done.

“We were changing what we were doing and doing things on the fly. Faculty, staff, and students were all figuring out how to be remote and do things online. I focused on day-to-day things to make sure we could do our work, get the mail delivered, and keep the lab microbes, plants, and animals alive,” Walker says.

If the associate dean looks familiar, that’s because Walker has worked at NSM for almost 20 years. In that time, he has advanced from assistant professor to chair of Biological Sciences, holding associate professor, professor, and vice chair positions along the way. Walker also chaired the Academic Senate, an elected group of faculty and staff that recommends policy on curriculum, academic standards, and faculty selection and retention.

Walker is part of the fabric of NSM, although he shies away from the spotlight. Though he is an established part of the administration, Walker prefers to think of himself as a facilitator and educator.

“Most of the things folks bring to me in my role as associate dean require facilitating getting things done or educating them about process and policy,” he says.

In a typical day, Walker works with faculty, staff, and students. He is involved with the Student Success Team and the academic appeals process. He also collaborates with staff and department chairs on facilities projects and manages several NSM committees focused on curriculum, grants, and health and safety.

A Model Educator

Walker developed his interest in academia when he was a student. Throughout his postsecondary education, he interacted with faculty members who shared their love of science and nurtured his quest for knowledge. Clearly, he internalized those experiences, as he approaches his role at NSM with the same passion he witnessed as a student.

The building projects Walker works on align with his desire to facilitate great educational experiences. He is tracking the modernization projects in McCarthy and Dan Black Halls with an understanding of the important part design plays in enhancing work and learning. The renovations are designed to advance a teacher-scholar model, promoting the quest for scientific knowledge and discovery for both faculty and students.

“Outstanding places to work, research, and learn will aid our students and faculty members in their success and in shaping a great experience for all at NSM,” Walker says, as he continues to coordinate utilities shutdowns, access to space, and problem-solving strategies with the renovations’ project managers, academic space manager, and contractors.

As students and faculty return to campus in the fall, rather than a return to the status quo, Walker expects they will find some type of hybrid working and learning environment where some virtual tools continue to be employed. He predicts some policies that were changed during the pandemic will remain in force, like paperless documents and virtual meetings.

“It just makes sense to use what we learned during the pandemic, as it applies. But there is no substitute for being in the lab or in front of a chalkboard working out problems together,” he says. “Students and faculty, especially, will be happy to come together again.”

Understated as always, Walker’s message to students, faculty, and staff is simple: “If you need something, let me know. I’m happy to help out.”

Recommended Articles