Innovative Leadership at Appalachian

Colleges’ and schools’ deans committed to demonstrating sustainability-focused innovation

Leadership at Appalachian State University is committed to demonstrating sustainability-focused innovation – at the confluence of the environment, equity and economics – through teaching, research, service and operations. Above all, leadership is dedicated to student success, says Chancellor Sheri N. Everts.

“With new leadership at the helm of nearly every college, my expectations are high,” said Everts. “This academic leadership team will effect positive change here on our campus and in the greater community.

“Please reach out to and welcome our new deans and support them as they work toward our common goals.”

Leading Appalachian’s colleges and schools for 2017-18 academic year are:

Dr. James Douthit
Dr. James Douthit
Dean, Hayes School of Music

Start date: July 17, 2017

A native western North Carolinian, Dr. James Douthit was a pianist, teacher and an administrator at Nazareth College in suburban Rochester, New York. He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts in piano performance and literature from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. He chaired Nazareth’s Department of Music for nine years and now serves as the college’s associate vice president for academic affairs.

As the associate vice president of academic affairs at Nazareth beginning in 2014, Douthit led the development of the Center for Life’s Work, a program that links professional career development to academic study for students across the college. He provided leadership for the college-wide strategic plan, as well as strategic plans for graduate studies and for diversity and inclusion.

“I am delighted to lead and facilitate the collaboration of faculty and staff as we continue this tradition of providing not only an education that advances the career trajectories of our students, but also advances our musical culture within North Carolina as well as in the world beyond this culturally rich and diverse state,” he said.

Dr. Heather Hulburt-Norris
Dr. Heather Hulburt-Norris
Dean, Walker College of Business

Start date: July 1, 2016

Dr. Heather Hulburt-Norris was acting dean of the Walker College of Business from 2014-15 and interim dean from 2015-16. She joined the Walker College of Business faculty in the Department of Finance, Banking and Insurance in the fall of 2003. She was named assistant dean for undergraduate programs in 2005, associate dean for undergraduate programs and administration in 2008 and senior associate dean in 2012.

Hulburt-Norris holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. in finance from The Pennsylvania State University, and a bachelor’s degree in finance from James Madison University. Her teaching and research interests involve corporate finance and investments, with a particular emphasis on corporate restructuring. She has been published in the Journal of Portfolio Management, Financial Management, Managerial and Decision Economics and the Journal of Applied Business Research. Her work on corporate restructuring has been cited in The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Business Week and Dow Jones Online News.

“Last year, we saw a need in the college to provide an educational opportunity on sustainable practices for this community. This is something we truly value. We want to advance sustainability in the education, research and service aspects of what we do in the Walker College of Business,” she said.

Dr. Marie Huff
Dr. Marie Huff
Dean, Beaver College of Health Sciences

Start date: Aug. 1, 2017

Dr. Marie Huff was most recently dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. At Bowling Green, Huff worked to create and implement three new academic programs and oversaw a $9.2 million renovation of the school’s health and human services building. She encouraged the development of interdisciplinary courses and initiatives and co-wrote a proposal to Medical Mutual of Ohio, which led to a $1 million gift in support of a new Institute on Optimal Aging.

Huff holds a doctorate in social work from the University of South Carolina and a Master of Social Work from the University of Georgia. Before earning her doctorate, she spent 10 years as a clinical social worker where she worked in the mental health field with adolescents and their families. She has published on such topics as student retention, service-learning and the use of technology in learning.

“I am seeking a position where I can collaborate with a creative and passionate team of professionals that is dedicated to teaching and graduating students who will become ethical, competent and compassionate practitioners,” she said.

Phyllis Kloda
Phyllis Kloda
Dean, College of Fine and Applied Arts

Start date: July 1, 2016

Prior to joining the faculty at Appalachian, Phyllis Kloda served as an associate dean in The School of The Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at The College at Brockport, State University of New York. She served as chair of the Department of Art at Brockport from 2006 until 2012. She has held positions as a faculty member in the Department of Fine Arts at Ohio Wesleyan University and at the University of Wyoming, where she was recognized with an Extraordinary Merit in Research Award for her scholarship along with an Ellbogen Teaching Award.

Kloda’s work also has included outreach on experiential learning with organizations in Rochester, New York, oversight of accreditation, periodic program reviews and assessment initiatives and fostering interdisciplinary initiatives among faculty.

“As one of the more unique colleges at Appalachian, the concepts of sustainability, communication, technology, creative practice and design are at the heart of what defines the College of Fine and Applied Arts,” she said. “The college boasts an extraordinary group of faculty and students whose research is unique, cutting edge and recognized on international and national levels. It is this very creative and innovative thinking coupled with hands-on learning that provide our students with the knowledge, skills and experiences to succeed in the highly competitive global job market.”

Dr. Max Poole
Dr. Max Poole
Dean, Cratis D. Williams School of Graduate Studies

Start date: Aug. 1, 2014

The longest-sitting dean at Appalachian, Dr. Max Poole has held the position of dean of the Cratis D. Williams School of Graduate Studies since 2014. Prior to joining Appalachian, he was senior associate dean of graduate studies in the College of Graduate Studies at the University of Central Florida from 2005-14. He also was associate dean of East Carolina University’s (ECU) Graduate School from 1998-2005 and assistant dean from 1994-98. He held a joint faculty appointment in UCF’s College of Health and Public Affairs, College of Medicine, and was a member of ECU’s Brody School of Medicine.

A native of Salisbury, Poole holds a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from UNC Charlotte and a Ph.D. in endocrinology from the Medical College of Georgia. He completed post doctorate work at the Medical College of Georgia and the ECU School of Medicine.

“Everyone who visits the campus of Appalachian State University immediately notices something special about the campus, the students, the faculty and staff,” he said. “This is a campus where graduate students are valued and where everyone is welcomed. At Appalachian State University, Masters’ Matter!”

Dr. Neva Specht
Dr. Neva Specht
Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

Start date: May 1, 2017

Dr. Neva Specht, a professor of history, served as interim dean for 12 months before being named as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Prior to that, she served in the role of senior associate dean beginning in 2013 and as associate dean from 2010-13.

Specht has taught in Appalachian’s Department of History since 1996 as a public historian, leading courses on museum education, public programming, living history and material culture, as well as the history of pirates and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Her research has focused on community formation among the Society of Friends [Quakers] in trans-Appalachia in the years following the American Revolution. From 2007-13, she served as Appalachian’s first liaison to the Blue Ridge Parkway. In that role, she developed an internship program for students and directed two National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks in History and Culture grants for high school teachers that focused on the Blue Ridge Parkway as a teaching tool.

Specht received her Ph.D. in United States history and material culture studies from the University of Delaware, where she also earned her Master of Arts in United States history with a certificate in museum studies. She received her bachelor’s degree from Grinnell College, with a double major in history and American studies.

“The College of Arts and Sciences is heavily involved in the education of all students, including those who are pursuing majors in other colleges,” she said. “Our faculty pride themselves on their commitment to teaching and scholarship and strive to help their students learn specific content information, develop critical thinking abilities, achieve mastery of oral and written communication skills, and gain the ability to integrate knowledge across academic fields. Our faculty provide real-world experiences for the students majoring in our programs.”

Dr. Melba Spooner
Dr. Melba Spooner
Dean, Reich College of Education

Start date: July 1, 2016

Dr. Melba Spooner came to Appalachian from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she was a faculty member and served in various roles in the College of Education including assistant dean; chair of the Department of Middle, Secondary, and K-12 Education; and associate dean. She started her career in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as a classroom teacher and assistant principal.

A nationwide leader in professional education accreditation efforts, Spooner has served in leadership capacities at the national and state levels on issues related to accreditation and policy. At UNC-Charlotte she directed key initiatives that have strengthened the quality of teacher preparation and enhanced the college’s reputation, including development of a new Office of Assessment and Accreditation and leadership in the areas of field experiences, educational outreach, and advising, licensure and recruitment.

Spooner’s areas of professional interest and research include university-school partnerships, specifically related to professional development schools and networks that support teacher development and enhance program quality.

“The Reich College of Education is consistently regarded as one of the largest and best undergraduate teacher education programs in the state,” she said. “I am encouraged by the eager students who arrive on our campus and leave as leaders in their respective fields. Our students, faculty, staff and alumni are actively involved in local, state, national, and international initiatives and continue to go beyond the bounds of possibilities.”

Dr. Jefford Vahlbusch
Dr. Jefford Vahlbusch
Dean, The Honors College

Start date: July 17, 2017

Dr. Jefford Vahlbusch comes to Appalachian from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, where he currently serves as the director of the University Honors Program. During his nearly eight years as director of the honors program at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the number of students in the program and the number of honors courses offered more than doubled, and the enrolled students of color increased from 2.51 percent to 11.57 percent.

Vahlbusch earned his Ph.D. in Germanic languages and literatures, his master’s in German literature and philology, and his bachelor’s in German and English literature from the University of Michigan in 1998, 1982 and 1979, respectively.

He has taught at Berea College, Berea, Kentucky; Washington College; Chestertown, Maryland; Miami University, Oxford, Ohio; and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He was also a lecturer at Johannes Gutenberg–Universität, Mainz, Germany.

“Dr. Vahlbusch demonstrated measurable successes in catalyzing the honors program at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. Over the course of his term there, he built a thriving and diverse program dedicated to intellectual, personal, and professional growth of the students. We are very pleased to have such a qualified and experienced leader join our faculty,” said Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Darrell Kruger.

Dr. Dane Ward
Dr. Dane Ward
Dean, University Libraries

Start date: Aug. 1, 2017

Dr. Ward comes from Illinois State University, Normal, where he has served as dean of the Milner Library since 2014. In his current leadership role at Illinois State University, Normal, Ward has developed partnerships with other units on campus to create one-stop learning assistance and support for students, including help with writing, stress management and career preparation. He revived a library fundraising effort, worked to enhance receptiveness to diversity, and developed a committee for textbook affordability in conjunction with the school’s student government association.

In 2009, Ward received a Special Presidential Recognition Award for Information Literary Innovation from the Association of College and Research Libraries. He also has held librarian positions at Central Michigan University and Wayne State University. A former Peace Corps teacher trainer/educational consultant in Senegal, Ward also has taught high school social studies and college-level English and social science.

Ward earned a Ph.D. in higher education administration from Illinois State University, Normal, a Master of Library and Information Science from Indiana University, Bloomington, a Master of Science in secondary social studies education from Florida State University, Tallahassee, and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from Indiana University, Bloomington.

“Dane brings a strong background in community-building and campus collaboration as a means to assist academic libraries in meeting the changing information needs of their institutions.” said Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Darrell Kruger.