All about making connections

Helping students always Goal No. 1 for UND Senior Vice Provost Debbie Storrs

Debbie Storrs

In her new role as senior vice provost, Debbie Storrs, formerly dean of the UND College of Arts & Sciences, aims to improve student success and retention while helping students avoid the pitfalls she had as a first-generation college student. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Debbie Storrs is connecting the dots for student academic success.

In her new role as senior vice provost, Storrs oversees the elements of student academic services, recruitment, retention and support.

It’s a bit different than her previous position as dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, where she supported and worked with 4,000 students, 200 faculty members and 18 departments

“What I love about the senior vice provost job is what I love about Arts & Sciences,” said Storrs. “I like the scope, complexity, and connections. From the International Center to enrollment to honors, it’s a diverse set of units that are central to ensuring students have an excellent academic experience at UND.”

Storrs is responsible for leading and collaborating with directors and staff in student academic services, Essential Studies, the honors program, ROTC, International Programs, Strategic Enrollment Management, the registrar’s office, assessment and accreditation, and the Teaching Transformation & Development Academy (TTaDA).

Even though she’s left the College of Arts & Sciences, Storrs will still focus on the value of the liberal arts as captain for Goal 1, strong liberal arts foundation, of the One UND Strategic Plan.

Connecting services, programs

Storrs said her goal is to improve student success and retention by connecting, strengthening, and supporting academic student services and programs.

And she wants to create opportunities while helping students avoid the pitfalls she had as a first-generation college student.

Storrs, like many students, floundered a little when she went to school, and ended up dropping out to work as a transcriptionist for several years. She knew she needed to go back to school, but didn’t have a major. Then she remembered one of her favorite classes.

“I went back to school to major in sociology because I loved an introductory class by Professor Jack Peterson at the University of Alaska,” she said. “The class provided a new lens to the world. The class inspired me to think differently about the world.” Another faculty mentor involved Storrs in research as a work study student, which led her to consider graduate school and ultimately to earn a master’s and doctoral degree in sociology from the University of Oregon.

As a graduate student, she served as a teaching assistant for historian Quintard Taylor, who was known for his teaching prowess.

“Dr. Taylor was a dynamic storyteller,” Storrs remembered. “He made history come alive, relevant, and engaged students through primary documents. No one missed class because it was so engaging. I wanted to teach like him.”

She did.

Storrs earned multiple teaching, advising and other awards at the University of Idaho, and this fall will team-teach an Introduction to University Life class for first-generation students.

“I’m excited to return to the classroom and connect with students,” Storrs said.

Debbie Storrs

As the captain of UND’s Strategic Plan Goal No. 1 — a strong liberal arts foundation — Storrs is looking to the future and watching changes in higher education across the nation and in North Dakota. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Strong future

As the captain of Strategic Plan Goal No. 1, a strong liberal arts foundation, Storrs is looking to the future and watching changes in higher education – both across the nation and in North Dakota.

“It’s important to implement the Strategic Plan in a way that’s sustainable and ensures a strong future for UND,” said Thomas DiLorenzo, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We know students need liberal arts perspectives and the skills they provide. Our task is to provide that in a way that’s embraced by them.”

Storrs noted that colleges and universities which fail to respond to today’s students are consolidating, closing or realigning their missions.

“UND has a window of time to position itself for a strong future,” she said. “I hope we embrace that. We need to come together as a community to offer students what they need and want. We need rigor and innovation and that means more collaboration across disciplines and across units. If we provide students with that, UND’s future is strong.”

“I’m passionate about higher education,” Storrs said. “I entered the profession because I care about students and higher education. I know the difference higher education made to my life and my family’s life.  I want the same difference to be possible for today’s students.  Working with and empowering faculty and staff is crucial to make that possible.”