Q&A: Urstein prepares for first day as new dean of freshmen

Sept. 24, 2012, 12:28 a.m.
Q&A: Urstein prepares for first day as new dean of freshmen
Robert Urstein, former assistant dean at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, starts his new job as dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising on Oct. 1. (L.A. Cicero/Stanford News Service)

Robert Urstein will begin his first day as Stanford’s new dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising next Monday, taking the place of Julie Lythcott-Haims ’89, who stepped down from the position in June. The University began a national search for Lythcott-Haims’ replacement last March when she announced she would be leaving the post at the end of the academic year to pursue a master of fine arts in writing from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco.

That search ended on Sept. 13 when the University announced that Urstein, former assistant dean for the doctoral program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB), had won the position. Urstein talked to The Daily about his experience prior to arriving at the Farm, participating in New Student Orientation (NSO) and succeeding the campus celebrity commonly known as “Dean Julie.”


The Stanford Daily (TSD): What is your academic background or previous affiliation to Stanford?

Robert Urstein (RU): I’ve been at Stanford for eight years, and am the assistant dean at the Graduate School of Business. I also teach a class called “Critical and Analytical Thinking,” which is one of the required classes for first-year [business students]. I’ve been working with undergraduate advising for seven years.

TSD: What experience do you have that you feel qualifies you for leading the school as dean of undergraduate advising?

RU:  Before Stanford, in 2004, I was a high school English teacher and chair of the English department at San Francisco University High School, an independent school in San Francisco, where I also coached lacrosse. Before that, I got my doctorate in American studies and was teaching undergraduate students at the University of Iowa. I’ve spent my time teaching undergraduates, graduates and high school students, so I’m familiar with where students are coming from and what they would like to do while they’re [at Stanford].

TSD: How has NSO been thus far?

RU: NSO is a great introduction to Stanford, seeing Stanford through the eyes of students … It’s a great opportunity to see more context to what I’m doing in [Undergraduate Advising and Research (UAR)], which is fantastic, and I can’t say enough about Stanford’s UAR. All the volunteers and leaders [have] … done a fantastic job introducing students to Stanford.

TSD: What are you most excited about starting in the new year?

RU: I think I’m most enthusiastic about the opportunity to engage with more students, work with my colleagues at the UAR and the entire faculty, and enhancing how Stanford undergraduates can work in the University. I’m really looking forward to meeting and interacting with people in a broader community than at the GSB.

TSD: What are your plans for any new projects in the works from undergraduate advising?

RU: I don’t have a specific agenda yet, and I’m not completely aware about what opportunities there are. It’s the beginning of my time in UAR; I’m learning a lot and I’m fortunate to have a great group of colleagues in the UAR and [the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education], whom I can both learn from and learn with in the short term.

TSD: What are any concerns you anticipate having to deal with your new role? Is there any concern of filling in the shoes of someone like Dean Julie who continues to interact with current students?

RU: Dean Julie is a remarkable person who did a phenomenal job at Stanford and impacted — and continues to impact — a lot of people. I would be foolish to try to be Dean Julie and [at the same time] think that we want everyone at Stanford to be themselves. So I’m really hopeful that I can grow into the job and contribute a lot to the undergraduates. I’m really looking forward to it.

Catherine Zaw was formerly the Managing Editor of News for Vol. 245 and Vol. 246. To contact her, please email [email protected].

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