This past July, Dr. Denise Seabert left Pensacola, Florida and settled in her new temporary home just a few minutes walk from the Fresno State campus. From her view each evening, the sun sets peacefully over campus, bringing with it a radiant glow – a sign of new beginnings.
For Seabert, this is indicative of her own professional journey which has taken her all over the U.S., from the midwest to the east coast and back to the west coast where she originally hails. In July, she began her new journey as dean of the College of Health and Human Services, which is home to over 4,100 students and 275 faculty and staff members. For Seabert, who grew up in the small, logging town of Aberdeen, Washington, a career in education wasn’t her first choice. While attending Western Washington University, she initially majored in music with the hopes of teaching orchestra one day.
“I soon realized that although I loved playing the cello, it wasn’t what I envisioned doing for life,” Seabert said. “I always knew I was going to be a teacher. It just took me a while to figure out what kind of teacher I was meant to be.”
Seabert began her professional teaching career in middle school math and health, and later as faculty in the university setting, before more recent roles as associate dean and dean of various higher education institutions. Keep reading to learn more Seabert’s personal and professional journey.
Your career has taken you to Seattle; Muncie, Indiana; Pensacola, Florida; and now Fresno! What is one thing about Fresno that differs from these other places?
The aspects that stand out to me include the diverse community, the rich agriculture, the natural landscape – oh, and the temperature! I am loving all there is to learn and experience here in the Central Valley.
Fresno is in the heart of California and is centrally located from our great outdoors. Have you had a chance to explore some of those places this summer?
Oh, yes. My first weekend here, my husband, Matt and I met General Sherman, which I hear is the largest living tree on earth! We had a wonderful day hiking among the giant sequoias, enjoying the cool air, and truly breathing in the peacefulness of the mountains.
You began your professional career teaching middle school math and health. Did you ever think you would go into higher education?
No, but my revelation came from one specific, transformational moment. I was invited to teach undergraduate courses for my mentor when she went on sabbatical. I remember walking back on campus to get ready for the job, and as I stood there – in the center of campus – it was then that I realized I was meant to become a college professor. My calling in life was to train teachers on how to teach health. Following that year, I took off for Indiana University to begin graduate studies so I could realize my dream.
Can you talk a bit about your professional journey within higher education?
It was while I was in graduate school in Bloomington, Indiana that I met my husband, Matt. We then spent four years at the University of Florida as I earned my Ph.D. in health behavior and curriculum. We returned to Indiana for the next 17 years where I spent 15 years at Ball State University in various roles, including including associate dean for external affairs and community engagement, chair of the Department of Physiology and Health Science, director of the London Centre for the Rinker Center for International Programs and professor of health education.
Most recently I served as dean of the Usha Kundu, MD College of Health at the University of West Florida, in Pensacola.
The CHHS is a broad college, with seven academic programs and a variety of institutes and centers – as well as a diverse background of students, staff and faculty. With your background, how do you plan to work with and unite the many different academic areas and programs in our college and across campus?
As a health educator, I have come to truly appreciate the different role each of our professions/programs play in contributing to a healthy community. The social determinants of health (e.g., education, access to healthy foods, economic stability, environment, support systems, and access to health care) impact those we serve in all our professions. If we can work together to reduce barriers in these areas, we will not only improve the health status of those in our community, but we will also increase access to opportunities for the students we serve.
What do you hope others see from your leadership style?
I hope they see that I am a strong advocate for our students, faculty and staff, that I strive to do the right thing for the right reasons, and that I consistently act with integrity;
I am proud to be a caring, transparent, passionate woman and hope to inspire others to find and use their passion and gifts to improve the world. Mostly I hope others see how much I love what I do and that serving CHHS is truly a privilege of mine.
You’ve mentioned before that you are a lifelong learner. In what ways do you continuously expand your knowledge?
I really enjoy learning and with that, I am an avid podcast listener. “Coaching for Leaders” is my favorite podcast, as I’m able to learn the tricks of the trade from all the greats in leadership on this weekly show. I have spent the past year participating in bi-weekly leadership coaching sessions with the host of this podcast, and I am continuously learning and working to improve my leadership skills.
What are some of your favorite hobbies outside of work?
I like to think I coined the term “Knitflixing” – knitting and Netflix – which in my world, is the perfect combination of activities. I love knitting because there are patterns and rules to follow, the yarns available these days are so beautiful, and if you mess up you can just start over or rip out a few rows. Oh, and in the end you end up with a beautiful scarf, sweater, or pair of mitts! I also enjoy traveling with my family.
Since you love traveling, tell us – what is your favorite place you’ve ever traveled and why?
In 2010 I had the opportunity to lead a semester-long study abroad to London and even better, my family was able to join me. It was the most special travel experience for so many reasons. Our students, many of whom had never been out of the state, were transformed into worldly young people. Our boys got the most incredible education and we all made amazing memories. We went to the theatre, cycled through the countryside, visited museums, ate lunch at a funky pub in Oxford, toured beautiful parks and incredible markets, traveled by foot or tube everywhere we went, and just immersed ourselves in London.
Tell us a bit about your family.
My husband, Matt, stayed home with our three boys for nine years and then got involved in community engagement and was an avid volunteer with our local soccer club. Our oldest son, Clark (20) is studying mechanical engineering and math and serves as the lead academic coach in the University of West Florida’s tutoring center. Our middle son, Nathan (17) will be a high school senior and will play his final year of travel soccer. Elias (15) is our video game playing master and will be starting 10th grade. I can’t wait for them to join me here in Fresno at the end of this academic year.
Read more about Dr. Seabert on our blog.