Sheryl Feinstein arrived at UNK on April 25 as the new dean of the College of Education. Here’s an interview:
UNK News: As you’re settling in and getting to know UNK and the College of Education, what are your first impressions?
Sheryl Feinstein: I’m struck by how very welcoming the faculty and staff are at UNK. I have to say it’s rare that you meet a community that makes you feel so welcome from the very start. It’s actually extended beyond UNK to the community of Kearney. I absolutely appreciate it. Everyone is very committed to UNK. It’s great to see this type of pride. I think the campus is beautiful. I was lucky to come at the time I came when it is so green. It’s lovely to walk the campus.
UNK News: You spent 16 years at Augustana College (Sioux Falls, S.D.). How did your experiences there prepare you for this new role at UNK, and was it hard to leave?
Sheryl Feinstein: I was chair of a number of programs, and they were structured differently, with the department chairs taking on more responsibility. I was in charge of six different programs: Elementary education, secondary ed, special ed, deaf and hard of hearing, communication disorders and sign language interpreting. Many of those translate easily into UNK’s College of Education. I also worked a lot with our human performance department, so now I’m pleased to get to work with faculty where that’s their focus. I love the mind and body – it’s a powerful combination.
Yes it was hard to say goodbye. I had a great deal of administrative support there. A lot of faculty support, a lot of friends (laughing) …There were a number of going-away parties. I felt I was on a goodbye tour. Sometimes it’s time for a change and time for new challenges. That’s where I was in my life. There were things about UNK that drew me here. The footprint the College of Education has here in the state is big and that’s exciting. The whole ‘Difference Makers’ story of UNK fits in to what we’re doing here, and into the field of education. To be a part of that is exciting.
UNK News: Your academic research and publishing is on adolescence and cognitive processes. This sounds fascinating.
Sheryl Feinstein: Yes, this is the focus of my scholarly work. I’ve done research with middle school after-school programs, and we found once we started these programs, adolescent crime went down 52 percent immediately because of the additional supervision. This was an exciting discovery. I was also able to do research in Tanzania on adolescents, and along with that I’ve done a quite a bit on children and adults with special needs. One of the books I wrote was about women in Tanzania with chronic illness and disabilities. I have a great deal of interest in helping under-represented populations. One population in particular has been adolescent boys in correctional facilities.
One of my books is “At-Risk Teenagers,” and so I’ve done a great deal of work with that population and with Native American adolescents. It’s interesting that just this last week I had southern legislators ask me to come speak to them at a conference in Savannah to talk about teenagers. I also had a request from a group in Ohio, where they are experiencing a problem with suicides. Teenagers went to the school’s parenting group after reading my book and asked them to have me come. I’m going there in October. How could I not make that work?
UNK News: In Aberdeen (S.D.) and Luverne, Minn., where you were working on your Ph.D, you worked with public school systems. We know schools are facing many challenges today. How do you see your role as dean of one of Nebraska’s top producers of educators helping to meet these challenges?
Sheryl Feinstein: I see myself as needing to be an advocate of all the stakeholders: our undergraduate and graduate students, K-12 students, and the faculty and staff here in the COE. It is very challenging to be a teacher or administrator in this day and age. The realities are that we have national and state initiatives that we need to abide by. Society is asking school systems to be very accountable to them. That’s fair, but we need to keep our focus on what is helpful and best for the students. We’ve seen a lot of bashing of educators. I don’t think you bash people to greatness. I believe educators deserve a different tack.
I think Nebraska’s done a good job of being cautious as they adopted more standardized tests… taking these steps carefully. I want (policies and testing) to be well-thought-out. Not jumping on bandwagons. It’s a balance. Assessments need to be done, however, we want to make sure they enhance, not hinder students and learning.
UNK News: Just prior to moving to Kearney you were on a Fulbright fellowship in Moldova. What was that experience like?
Sheryl Feinstein: My first Fulbright actually was seven years ago in Tanzania. Recently, because of issues in Ukraine, Moldova has become a hotspot and there was a lot more interest in educational research and outreach there. Also Unicef had come in with a strong recommendation on what needed to be done in their schools, and Moldova was interested in implementing Unicef’s ideas. I enjoyed having those conversations with them. I also taught in their master’s programs, which was interesting because often I had to have translators which made it a bit more challenging. But they were very eager to have an American on faculty. From my Moldovan fellowship I co-authored two different research articles that were published in Romania. I collaborated with a Moldovan professor on both and then we were able to involve a professor from Tanzania in one of the articles. A Moldovan woman and I wrote a children’s book about a little girl who discovers she wants to be an engineer, “Diana the Engineer.” I’m particularly excited about this book, our intention is to donate 500 copies to the various schools and libraries in Moldova.
UNK News: Free time. Do you have any? How do you like to spend it?
Sheryl Feinstein: I like to exercise and read books. Those are probably the two hobbies I enjoy most. Getting together with friends is nice and I have 4 grown children that I am very proud of, so I greatly enjoy visiting them and having them visit me.
UNK News: We think you look pretty good in Loper blue.
Sheryl Feinstein: At Augustana, the colors were blue and gold! It’s good that I love those colors!