By Amy Matzke-Fawcett

After 3½ years leading the College of Arts and Letters at Old Dominion University, Dean Kent Sandstrom announced he will be stepping down, effective Jan. 24, to focus on his health and return to a faculty role. He will continue to teach and conduct research in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice.

Sandstrom came to the University in July 2017 from North Dakota State University, where he served as Dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences for six years. A sociologist with degrees from the University of Minnesota, Sandstrom has conducted extensive research on how people living with HIV negotiate and manage identities, emotions and relationships. He also has written books on social psychology and social theory, most recently "Symbols, Selves, and Social Reality" (Oxford University Press, 2013) and "Inside Social Life" (Oxford University Press, 2017).

Throughout Sandstrom's tenure at Old Dominion, the College of Arts and Letters has grown its enrollments by 10% when many comparable colleges were experiencing notable declines. Faculty have also increasedtheir scholarly productivity, especially as in terms of publications, fellowships and grants. Additionally, faculty, staff and students have won more than 100 distinguished awards since early 2018. Academic opportunities have also risen across the College with the founding of the Diehn School of Music, and the new majors in cybercrime and game studies and design, in response to the growth and job opportunities in those fields.

Other notable accomplishments include:

  • Sustaining a high level of scholarly productivity, as reflected in annual averages of more than 300 publications, 240 paper presentations, and 210 concerts, performances and artistic exhibitions.
  • Implementing and extending a collaborative agreement with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra that benefits ODU music majors by offering them opportunities to perform in side-by-side concerts with top professional musicians and to partner with them in educational outreach to area schools.
  • Expanding the visibility and impact of Arts@ODU programs and initiatives.
  • Co-sponsoring and implementing a variety of initiatives to enhance diversity and celebrate the contributions of communities of color.

Sandstrom said that he is grateful to have led the College during a time of change and growth.

"I feel especially proud of the depth of connection and community that has emerged in the College over the past few years, especially among departmental and program leaders," Sandstrom said. "In many ways, I think that sense of community may be the College's greatest achievement, and I trust that it will continue in the future."

And just this week, the college received a $300,000 gift from alumnus Will Giandoni to further programs and opportunities in the Department of History.

"I am grateful to Dean Sandstrom for his dedication and commitment to excellence," Provost Austin Agho said. "He did an excellent job in supporting and championing ODU's commitment to student success and diversity and inclusion."

Janet Katz, associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters, said it has been "a joy" to work with Sandstrom.

"Kent is the sixth dean I have worked for, and I feel that I can confidently state that he has led the College with integrity and wisdom and kindness," Katz said. "He values openness, accessibility and diversity, and seeks out the opinions of others."

Dale Miller, associate dean of graduate studies and research in the college, said it's hard to put into words what Sandstrom has meant to him personally, and to the College.

"For me, he has been both an unfailingly supportive and encouraging mentor and model, a role in which I hope that he will continue. And for the College, he has been a consummate leader: a strong advocate, an insightful strategist and a compassionate guardian," Miller said. "No one in the College who met him ever had any doubt about how much he cared for our well-being, individually and collectively. He positively radiates kindness and concern."

Sheri Reynolds, professor and chair of the Department of English, called Sandstrom one of the greatest teachers of her lifetime.

"I've learned more about leadership from him than anyone else I know," she said. "No matter what problem he deals with, Kent sees the goodness in people first, recognizing and appreciating the nuances in every situation. He has created a climate of support in the College, and by that, I mean connections between faculty, staff, administrators and students."

She noted that when he announced he would step down in a recent chairs and directors meeting, the news was met with sadness and even tears. "He provided such steadiness and kindness, all while bringing out the best in so many programs," she said.

Mona Danner, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, where Sandstrom will continue to teach, expressed gratitude for his leadership skills and compassion.

"Kent has been an extraordinary dean because he really cares about the College and all of its people, really listened to our concerns, and worked to make things better," Danner said. "His collaborative spirit helped form the chairs into a cohesive and supportive community. We will miss his kindness, compassion, transparency and advocacy for the College."

An interim dean will be announced in January.

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