Saturday, May 26

UCLA’s new dean and vice provost of undergraduate education aims to enhance learning

Patricia Turner has taken over for Judith Smith as the new dean and vice provost for undergraduate education.

Patricia Turner has taken over for Judith Smith as the new dean and vice provost for undergraduate education. Courtesy of UCLA Newsroom

Patricia Turner recently took over as the dean and vice provost for undergraduate education at UCLA, after more than two decades as a faculty member and administrator at UC Davis.

Turner, formerly a vice provost at UC Davis, stepped into the role on Dec. 17, replacing Judith Smith, who retired after 16 years in the position.

The responsibilities of the dean and vice provost for undergraduate education at UCLA include creating and administering programs to enhance the experience of the undergraduate population, Smith said.

“I think (Turner) is the perfect choice. She comes really well prepared,” Smith said.

Smith and Turner initially met in 2001 when vice provosts from all University of California campuses met as a council in Oakland, Calif., Smith said.

The university announced Turner’s appointment to the position in July.

Her recent transition means Turner does not yet have set goals for her new position.

“My goal is to have goals in about six months,” Turner said. “I can read about UCLA online and through news sources as much as I want, but I don’t know what makes most sense before coming and talking with students and doing a lot of listening.”

At UC Davis, Turner used creative methods to enhance the learning experience for undergraduates, she said.

“I need to be as creative as possible so education isn’t compromised,” Turner said. “For example, when we knocked down walls in some of the Davis classrooms to make a bigger learning space – but not big enough so that learning was compromised.”

Turner – who was once a professor of African American and African studies – never imagined herself as an administrator because she wanted to keep a strong connection with students, which some think administrators do not typically have, said Gail Martinez, assistant vice provost of undergraduate education at UC Davis.

“She tries to stay close to the heartbeat of students,” said Martinez, who once took a course that Turner taught at UC Davis.

To stay connected to students, Turner held a student advisory – nicknamed “Pizza with Pat” – where she would meet with a group of students and use them as a soundboard, asking for their opinions on issues and happenings on campus, Martinez said. Turner is bringing this idea to UCLA – just with a new name: “Picnic with Pat.”

“Pizza all the time gets old after a while,” Turner said.

In addition to her passion for working with students, Turner is known by her colleagues for her taste in funky and eclectic music.

“She would always bring an iPod and speakers to create a mood (in the office),” said Sharon Knox, senior writer and project manager for undergraduate education at UC Davis. Knox started out at Davis as Turner’s executive assistant, and they worked together for 15 years.

Her colleagues said Turner gave them tasks that were both interesting and challenging, encouraging them to improve.

“She’s very good at seeing people’s potential and helping people reach their maximum potential,” Knox said.

In her time at UC Davis, Turner was also known among her colleagues for trying to keep things interesting with her quirky sense of humor.

One Halloween, Turner said she dressed as first lady Michelle Obama and brought in food from “Michelle’s garden.” She also brought in a cutout of President Barack Obama, which she sat at her office’s conference table for the day, Martinez said.

“Everyone works really hard and the opportunities to laugh and smile become really important,” Turner said.

As Turner transitions into her new role at UCLA, she said she anticipates positive changes and rewarding moments, including getting to watch the looks of accomplishment on students’ faces at graduation.

“I look forward to those types of moments at UCLA, but it’s hard for me to predict because they’re often unexpected,” Turner said.

“When students show their best selves so generously – when that happens it’s truly magic.”

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