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  October 23, 2000

Fine Arts Dean Plans to Showcase
School to Wider Audience

David G. Woods, the new dean of the School of Fine Arts, has one major goal this fall: spread the word.

"We are the largest, most comprehensive school of fine arts in New England," he says. And he wants everyone to know that, both on campus and in the wider community. Since he arrived at UConn on Aug. 1, Woods has spent much of his time meeting with as many people as possible to make sure they know about what the school has to offer.

Students are already starting to notice the school, and they like what they see.

"More young people are discovering that the University of Connecticut has one of the most viable artistic programs in the country today," Woods notes. "Our admission inquiries have increased geometrically in the past several years and we anticipate that our enrollment will continue to rise as we provide valuable experiences in the arts for our students."

In what many would see as a non-traditional approach, the new dean is turning to students for help in his effort to keep the school relevant in the new millennium. On Friday afternoons, he can be found chatting with students during the weekly "Catch the Dean's Ear" sessions he instituted when he arrived.

"It is certainly not my desire to handle every student problem in the school and I will not," he says. "I always refer students back to the departments or to the associate dean if there are academic problems. However, this gives me the opportunity to hear from students about activities, events and accomplishments."

Woods also plans to share those accomplishments with others. During last month's retreat for the school's faculty and staff, he introduced the idea of hometown recitals, performances and exhibitions by UConn seniors from Connecticut.

"Students could return to their homes to share senior art projects, senior recitals and senior dramatic arts programs," he says. "We would return with the student to introduce him or her once again to teachers, friends and family."

Woods' devotion to his students can be seen as an extension of his expertise in early childhood music education. Of the 40 books he has published, 30 are a comprehensive series for grades kindergarten through eight, called "Jump Right In."

Woods came to UConn from the University of Indiana in Bloomington, where he had served as dean of the School of Music since 1997. He succeeds Robert Gray, who died in June 1999. Gary English, a professor of dramatic arts, served as interim dean of fine arts.

Woods was also dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Oklahoma, director of the School of Music at the University of Arizona, and chairman of the Division of Music Education at Iowa State University.

While Woods has spent much of his time here focusing on the students' needs, his faculty and staff are also benefitting from his energy. Plans are underway to relocate the school's puppet lab, which Woods says is now housed in an inadequate facility. Woods is planning an addition to the Benton Museum and is exploring the possibility of replacing the Drama Annex building and renovating Jorgensen Gallery.

Woods sees his planned changes as a way of building on the school's solid foundation. Like a proud parent, Woods lists some of the school's many accomplishments. The puppetry program is internationally known and recognized; the Benton Museum, Jorgensen Auditorium and sculpture garden are well respected; and the school's faculty is well known in the arts community.

According to Woods, it's his duty to share the news about the school with as many people as possible.

"My job as dean is to get the word out and to show that we can be a vehicle for increasing the visibility of UConn in a positive way," Woods says.

During his introductory remarks at the retreat, Woods used the words of writers from T.S. Eliot and NiccolòMachiavelli to Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten author Robert Fulghum to explain his vision to the school's faculty.

"The challenge is to manage, encourage and develop all of the valuable human resources that we have in the School of Fine Arts," Woods told his audience. "Let us make tough choices, let us put priorities on what we do, let us celebrate ourselves, let us make out of the material of the human spirit something that was not there before."

Allison Thompson