Occidental’s nationwide searches to replace two senior staff positions concluded when the college hired Rob Flot as dean of students and vice president for student affairs Nov. 16, 2016 and Wendy Sternberg as dean of the college and vice president for academic affairs Jan. 3. The new deans started work July 1.
Flot worked at Illinois State University as a staff counselor for student counseling services 1994–2003. He worked at Lake Forest College 2003–17, where he was the dean of students and vice president for student affairs for his final two years. He believes his previous positions at Lake Forest were essential in priming him for his new post at Occidental. According to Flot, his experience is supplemented by his academic training in clinical psychology at Eastern Illinois University.
“I wonder how a person can be a dean of students without a background in psychology,” Flot said. “I bring eight years of successful experience being a dean of students and vice president of staff, and I bring that experience to Occidental College.”
Flot said he is committed to the growth and evolution of Occidental, but believes there is a need for change. Based on his experiences during the application process, Flot also said that he wants to be accessible, relatable and prepared to engage with students.
“I hope to be someone who students see as an advocate and someone that students from a variety of backgrounds can engage with,” Flot said. “I strive to and have a history of representing and supporting the entire student body.”
Associate Senior Dean of Students Erica O’Neal Howard, former interim dean of students, stated that the appointment of Flot and Sternberg alleviated pressure on her department. Howard said she anticipated that hiring a new dean of students and a dean of the college at the same time would open up an opportunity for collaboration.
“I am definitely very happy to have Dean Flot on board. I now have time to engage more in-depth with issues and focus on special projects,” Howard said. “[Flot and Sternberg] are already looking at how Student Affairs and Academic Affairs can create more synergies to benefit students moving forward.”
In response to Flot’s stated commitment to the growth of educational policy at Occidental, Howard said that the new dean of students will inherit a collaborative group of senior staff eager to work with him to move forward.
One member of this group is the newly appointed Sternberg. Sternberg was formerly the dean of academic departments and programs at Union College for approximately five years. Before that, she worked at Haverford College for 18 years, including four years as associate provost. According to Sternberg, her experience at small liberal arts colleges make Occidental a familiar environment.
“I loved being in college and wanted to be in the environment forever,” Sternberg said. “While I was there, I started finding a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction in the administrative work I was doing.”
When Occidental approached her for the position of dean of the college, Sternberg said that it seemed like an interesting opportunity for her to continue her educational progression. Her predecessor, former Interim Dean of the College Kerry Thompson, expressed confidence in Sternberg.
“Sternberg comes with excellent credentials and a wealth of experience that the college will benefit from,” Thompson said.
Sternberg said that she is committed to creating an inclusive educational experience at Occidental by providing opportunities for a wide range of students, regardless of their background.
“I would want to see more of our classes taught by tenure and tenure-track faculty,” Sternberg said. “But that has to be in the context of a plan, and so I’ve appointed a working group of faculty that will be working with me this year that will be articulating a forward-thinking plan.”
Sternberg said that she sees herself as the right person to orchestrate this new push. The senior staff members eagerly awaited this change as the dean searches progressed, according to Sternberg.
“My on-the-ground training has helped me understand what is important to faculty, what drives them [and] what motivates them,” Sternberg said.