New dean heads up graduate school program


If progress is the theme on the campus of SDSU, it’s not limited to just putting up structures. The graduate school is moving forward as well.

Dr. Kinchel Doerner is in his first weeks as the dean of the graduate school and is at the reins of an ambitious project to continue growing SDSU’s graduate programs while still promoting research at a high level.

Doerner is the first full-time hire for the seat that has been filled for the short term over the last few years.

A few years ago, the school was under the tutelage of Vice President of Research Kevin Kephart, who also watched over the graduate school. It was later handed off as a part-time position. While looking for a dean, Mary Kay Helling, the associate vice president for Academic Affairs, served as interim dean of the graduate school before hiring Doerner. Kephart has stayed on the research side, and Doerner is aboard to lead roughly 1,500 graduate students in 40 programs.

“We want to expand our research and we want to expand our research possibilities, and a method to that is expanding our graduate program so we have the students to do the work and build the workforce that the state needs in these high-tech jobs,” Doerner said.

Expansion will have to be careful, Doerner said, because SDSU doesn’t want to sacrifice quality in the name of getting bigger.

“It’s a natural fit to expand both your research capacity and then expand the number of programs we’re going to offer and the quality of those programs,” he said. “We want to evaluate the programs and then make sure our growth fits the mission of the university and the trajectory of our school to make sure our programs are successful.”

A native of Clay City, Ill., Doerner grew up in a rural area and was involved in agricultural programs growing up. After studying animal industries at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, he went on to the University of Illinois to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees where he studied anaerobic microbiology and looked at the remnants of cows. He was most recently at Western Kentucky University teaching microbiology and serving as the interim dean of the graduate school for one year before coming to SDSU.

Right now, Doerner said he’s focusing on making the small things work better — such as paper flow and documents for application into the school — before he delves into bigger issues.

“While it sounds mundane and boring, it’s actually very important,” he said. “If we want to get quality students into our school, we need to make sure our response to their questions and applications is quick.”

Doerner said he will prioritize his relationships with the graduate faculty on campus and make sure their needs are met.

“I see my job as largely facilitating the desires of the faculty,” he said. “It’s the faculty that’s going to make these programs go, it’s faculty that’s going to bring the passion, the skillset, the knowledge to really bring these programs to life. I want to make sure our faculty have the outlets to work with students.”

The graduate school delivers 16 percent of its overall credit hours online. Doerner acknowledged not every program is suitable for online delivery, but he does expect his departments to look at ways to increase participation online.

“There’s some programs that you just won’t be able to do online, but there’s a lot of flexibility out there for us to look at ways to work into the schedules of our students,” he said.

Doerner said he’s excited to get to work at a new school like SDSU, one that excels at getting the most out of every student.

“SDSU clearly has a passion for teaching,” Doerner said. “It values high-quality undergraduate education, and that’s still strong on campus, and that’s a huge asset. There’s many high-research institutions that aren’t as focused on the undergraduate level, and that’s certainly refreshing to see here.”