A late-winter sun polishes the conference table in Garnett Stokes’ third-floor office in Old College. Stokes, the first female dean in the history of UGA’s largest and most venerable college, has been on the job nearly four years, and she still enjoys challenges at every turn.
She loves to solve complicated problems, and that’s a good thing, because the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences is the New York Times crossword puzzle of UGA when it comes to rich and diverse complexity.
By training she’s an industrial/organizational psychologist, and true to her profession, she keeps a tight schedule as she oversees the 30 departments and numerous centers and institutes in the college. And yet in most meetings during her deanship, she finds time to laugh, even if on some days there’s no special reason for it.
“To be honest, I didn’t plan to go to college when I was in high school, in spite of strong encouragement from some of my teachers,” said Stokes, who was head of UGA’s psychology department before becoming dean in 2004. Her father, who was a chief master sergeant in the Air Force, convinced her to take the SAT, and when Stokes graduated from high school near Kokomo, Ind., where her father was stationed, she decided to take classes in a somewhat desultory way from the local college, Indiana University-Kokomo. To her surprise, she discovered that college might be for her after all, and she headed off to tiny but excellent Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn.
“As a first-generation college student, I really didn’t go in knowing what to look for,” she said. Still, an interest in psychology that began in high school led her to that field, and she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1977. She knew a bit about Georgia, since her father was a native of Covington, so she applied for and was accepted into the doctoral program in psychology at UGA, earning an M.S. in 1980 and her Ph.D. in 1982.
By 1984, she was an assistant professor at UGA, working her way up the academic ladder, her scholarship and reputation growing each year. The co-author of two books and about 75 book chapters, reports and articles, Stokes has advised and assisted dozens of businesses and government departments on matters involving hiring, job analysis, job assessment, safety, conflict management and training. She has won several teaching awards and held leadership roles in professional organizations.
Being dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences is an endless challenge, but Stokes is an eager advocate.
“Meeting the demands for instruction continues to be a significant issue for us,” she said, “since most freshmen entering UGA take courses in the Franklin College. We struggle to meet that demand with tenured faculty. We are always concerned with continuing the tradition of quality instruction the college has had since its beginning.”
Another issue taking much of Stokes’ time lately is a desire to build and strengthen the college’s doctoral programs by continuing to recruit the best graduate students available.
“There’s just not enough funding to do this with complete effectiveness,” said Stokes, “but we are partnering with the Graduate School and studying ways to improve our support for graduate students.”
Strong and innovative undergraduate opportunities also remain at the heart of Stokes’ interests, and she noted that many superb programs that are now university-wide got their start in the Franklin College.
Another area of concern is the constant need to increase private support for the Franklin College. To that end, Stokes has dramatically revamped the development office of the college, and her team in that area is raising more and more money each year for use in many areas.
Finally, a strong attention to issues of diversity led Stokes in 2007 to name psychology professor Kecia Thomas as new senior adviser to the dean for inclusion and diversity leadership.
That new office is already yielding innovative approaches to diversity in the college and helping focus attention on the need for fresh approaches.
With more than 600 faculty members and almost 16,000 students, the Franklin College makes up more than half of UGA population, and some days Stokes must feel more like a mayor than a dean. After all, the college’s population is larger than most cities in Georgia. The greatest surprise for her, however, hasn’t been the responsibility or the workload. Far from it.
“I had no idea how much being dean would enrich my life,” she said. “The experiences I’ve had throughout the college have been greater than I could have ever imagined. There is just so much going on here. Being dean has forced me not to miss out, and I’m incredibly thankful for that.”