Two weeks ago, President Paul Hennigan’s Office announced to the entire campus community that Dr. Darlene Marnich, the chair of the School of Education, would become the School of Education’s founding dean. Dr. Marnich has been officially serving in the capacity of the dean of the School of Education since the announcement.
“Darlene has been an outstanding leader when it was the department of education, and she’s turned it into what it is today, with the enrollment that it has, all of the innovative programs that it has,” President Hennigan said. “And so we wanted to make sure Dr. Marnich had the opportunity to be the dean and felt that should happen, and she wanted to do it as well, so it was just a mutual agreement, and we’re very happy.”
True to Hennigan’s endorsement of Dr. Marnich, education studies at Point Park have seen dramatic changes in the last 14 years she has served as chair.
Dr. Marnich oversaw the introduction of the first doctoral program at Point Park University, an Ed.D. in Leadership and Administration. She also recommended shifting education graduate programs to online and successfully convinced her faculty to do so long before the coronavirus pandemic. In 2017, she unveiled an online master’s degree program in Athletic Coaching. Most notably, she pushed for the department of education, which had been part of the School of Arts and Sciences, to become the School of Education, a goal which was realized in September of 2018.
According to Dr. Marnich, much of her duties as dean for the School of Education will be similar to the work she was doing as chair.
“In some regards, I think I have been functioning as a dean for so many years because the dean really is supposed to be the visionary for the School,” Dr. Marnich said. “And so, first and foremost, I believe my obligation is always to look out for the academics of our School of Education, to make sure that we are delivering what we say we’re going to deliver, to always keep an eye on the future.”
However, the position of an academic dean holds certain advantages over the position of a chair. Dr. Marnich and the School of Education faculty were alerted to this in a virtual faculty meeting held this summer about returning to campus amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“The only people that were on the platform that could have access to turn on the microphones—[because] with that big of an audience you can’t have everybody have the ability to click in—were John Pearson and Paul Hennigan and the deans,” Dr. Marnich said. “And I knew the faculty in the School of Education were not happy with that.”
Dr. Richard Gutkind, a full-time faculty member of the School of Education and a colleague of Dr. Marnich said that the education faculty came together and requested that the university select a dean for the School of Education in light of that incident.
“By now, we were no longer a department of education. We were a School of Education. The size of our program was equivalent to all the other schools and larger than some, and we weren’t being represented at the table like the other schools because we didn’t have a dean,” Dr. Gutkind said. “So we determined at the time, we would make that request. We thought it was appropriate; it was fair. And we were a significant part of the university, and we weren’t really being represented. We didn’t have a lot of say in university matters.”
The Conservatory of Performing Arts, the School of Communication, and the Rowland School of Business all have academic deans. The School of Arts and Sciences does not have an academic dean listed on the university’s official website.
Dr. Gutkind said that he hopes and believes that Dr. Marnich can balance ensuring success for the School of Education in the immediate future and meeting students’ unique needs.
“I think we need to be vigilant about how we can survive. These are turbulent times now,” Dr. Gutkind said. “And there are some universities that may not be around a couple of years from now, and there are some programs within universities that won’t be around. So I think she’s going to be in some ways a tough taskmaster.”
Despite the pandemic, things appear to be looking up for the School of Education overall. Dr. Marnich said that enrollment was particularly high for masters and doctoral programs in the fall 2020 semester. There are plans to develop graduate programs for instructional technology, now designed to prepare students for educating in a virtual, non-traditional learning environment. Both Dr. Marnich and Dr. Gutkind spoke of a trusting bond between full-time and adjunct education faculty, which they cited in helping the School’s fast-track progression and success in the last several years.
“I want there to continue to be innovation and vision and the student-centered approach to be our cornerstone of our School of Education,” Dr. Marnich said.
So far, the reception to Dr. Marnich becoming the dean of the School of Education has been positive. She said that even a few of her students have commented on Facebook congratulating her on the promotion.
Dr. Gutkind said that the decision among the education faculty was essentially unanimous and that she was the “natural choice.”
“Anybody who knows her can tell you she’s a bulldog,” he said. “She knows what she wants, and she is persistent, and she will continue to fight to get what she thinks is the right thing for the university and the School of Education. When she believes in something, she will fight to the end. And we knew that she would represent the School of Education in that manner.”
“To me, it is an honor that the administration is recognizing the work that I have done all these years to bring our small little department of education to the place that is right now,” Dr. Marnich said. “And that they and my faculty believe that I am the right person to continue to lead our group as we move forward. To have that kind of vote of confidence from the School of Education faculty, and from the administration of our university is…I can’t even come up with the right adjective.”