Dean Jean QuamDean Jean Quam

Thanks, Jean

A conversation with retiring Dean Jean Quam

Since 2008, Jean Quam has been dean of the College of Education and Human Development, leading the college from its initial merger to greater and greater levels of success and recognition. After 12 years, she is stepping down August 1, 2020. She plans to take a sabbatical, return as a full professor in the School of Social Work, and begin a phased retirement. We sat down with Jean to talk about some of her memories during her tenure and her vision of the future.

In your mind, what have been some of the highlights of your tenure?

When I became dean, one of the first things the provost talked to me about was balancing the budget. We were in a serious deficit, so that was probably one of my primary accomplishments—we have a financially sound college now. 

Dean Jean Quam and her “I’m Kind of a Big Deal” plaque

I’m proud of all the work I’ve done with fundraising. We’ve exceeded all of our goals. When we started we were around 30 million dollars in endowments and demand funds. We’re now almost up to 100 million dollars, so we’ve increased by over 70 million dollars in endowments. That really builds the future of this college. 

I also think about the work we’ve done infusing more technology into our teaching and establishing Educational Technology Innovations as a place to be an incubator to develop products. We’ve also developed a strong research infrastructure. The number of our research projects and the number of dollars that are coming in for research have increased dramatically. 

I feel really good about how we’ve encouraged study abroad with our students, helped raise funds to be able to pay for more students to study abroad, and to have our faculty do work internationally. 

Finally, increasing the diversity of our faculty and staff. It’s been a very conscious effort on our part to look more like the students we have coming in.

CEHD cheerleader

During my six years as regent, I attended many graduations. The CEHD graduation was special and Dean Jean was the cheerleader. She knew that for each of the graduates it took a village to get them to the finish line and she encouraged them to celebrate!
Dean Quam was always ready to try new ideas on behalf of her college and the students. Many of these efforts were in pursuit of an atmosphere that supported true diversity. The results of those efforts speak for themselves!

Peggy Lucas
Regent Emeritus

What are some things that you wish you could have accomplished, but didn’t, either because of a lack of time or resources?

Dean Jean enjoys hanging out with students and alumni regardless if it’s at the block party or at homecoming.

I would have loved to have taken over Eddy Hall. It frustrates me to no end that that building, which is one of the oldest and most interesting buildings on campus—and right next door to Burton—sits empty. I’m frustrated we didn’t get that done. The School of Kinesiology is in one of the worst buildings on campus—Cooke Hall—and I would love to see it either get out of that space or significantly renovate that building. They’re a very strong school and a growing program and they really deserve better space. I was very concerned about the Institute on Community Integration—Pattee Hall is another horrible building. I frequently say that we’re blessed and cursed with the oldest buildings on campus. You get a building like Burton Hall and when you renovate it, it’s beautiful. But Pattee—We’ve put hundreds of thousands of dollars into it and it’s still not a very healthy building. I’m very excited that they’re going to be moving out of that building and into the new brain institute space. But that’s probably been my biggest frustration. Space is critically important to us getting our work done. 

Approachable and inclusive

Once a year, she hosts a dinner for us at Nicollet Island Inn with the holders of the two professorships we sponsor. It’s five or six of us around the table and it’s a lively discussion. It’s the most stimulating experience we have during the year. No one else has done that for us. Bringing these very learned professors to us is very stimulating.
Another thing we admire about her is she stands up for what is right. She is about justice and equality—two other ways of fulfilling what we want for children and educational standards. She is courageous. We’ve seen this on many occasions.
Jean makes a donor really feel appreciated because of her gracious gestures. She goes out of her way to include us, to let us know what is going on, and she thanks us from the heart. We just find her absolutely charming and there’s not a thing we don’t love about her. We adore this woman. She’ll be greatly missed.

Nancy and John Lindahl

It’s obvious that assuming the role of dean, especially for a new college, comes with a sharp learning curve. What are some of the things about the position that you just didn’t expect?  

I didn’t realize what a serious financial hole we were in at the time and that it was going to take time to get out of that. We really had to make some very tough decisions about closing programs. 

I don’t think I ever fully realized how much fundraising I would be doing and that I would like doing it.

To the U of M via Cedar Rapids

Jean Quam began her career as an outreach social worker in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she worked with individuals with physical and mental disabilities. She earned her BA in social work from Moorhead State University and a MSW in psychiatric social work from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. “I worked as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home for four years to work my way through my undergraduate studies and became interested in gerontology,” she says.
She then moved to Iowa City and worked on a research project with cancer patients at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and enrolled in a doctoral program in education. However, an opportunity then arose to come back to Moorhead State and teach in the social work program. She decided social work was what she wanted to pursue and went on to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison for her doctorate.
As gerontology was a primary interest, she completed her dissertation on social support systems for older women. Her research since then has included work on serious and persistent mentally ill older adults, including founding two group homes for this population with other faculty from the School of Social Work at the U of M.
Jean first came to the School of Social Work in 1980 as an instructor. She became director of the school in 1991 and held that position until 2006, when another opportunity arose. In 2005, the University assembled a task force to determine the feasibility of a new college that would include the College of Education, two units from the College of Human Ecology, and General College. Jean was asked to co-chair the task force.
“The merger was intended to create new opportunities, which it has, but it also led to some short-term financial and cultural challenges that needed to be addressed,” says Ryan Warren, who initially served in a chief of staff/CFO/COO role under Jean and later became the founder and director of the college’s Education Technology Innovations. The provost at the time canvassed the newly formed college to determine the best person to lead the new College of Education and Human Development. “There was broad support for Jean to become dean and address the short-term issues while laying a foundation for the future that maximized the new college’s potential. She was well-respected and had the ability to pull people together.”
On September 1, 2008, Jean assumed the position of interim dean of the college and was named permanent dean one year later. She addressed the college’s immediate challenges and helped create an ambitious plan to guide the college throughout her tenure as dean. Besides the college now being in the best financial shape ever, it has made and continues to make tremendous strides in three foundational pillars: excellence in research, diversity and internationalization, and technology and innovation.
“She has regularly made decisions consistent with this vision,” Warren says. “She had a 12-year run because the support the provost recognized in 2008 was genuine and Jean was able to simultaneously address the short-term issues while laying out a vision for the future that brought everyone together, and keeps us together still.”

What are some of your predictions for the future of education?

Dean Jean Quam
Ribbon cutting ceremony

If you look at the higher education landscape in the state of Minnesota, we are way overbuilt. Not all of the educational programs and institutions we have in the state can survive. If you’re a small town and you have a community college or you have a state university and they start cutting programs or even eventually cut the whole campus; that has a profound effect on the community. Those are the tough decisions that are going to have to be made. In order to keep costs down we’re going to have to look at ways to combine programs, colleges, and institutions. 

An interesting thing happening now is organizations are moving into the education realm. Let’s just use teacher education as an example. Organizations are coming into the state saying ‘We can teach teachers. We don’t have to be affiliated with a university. We know what it takes to be a good teacher. Why would you spend all that money on tuition?’ We’re going to see more challenges from organizations that think they can offer things more effectively, more efficiently, cheaper. Would that put colleges out of business? I personally don’t think so but it could challenge a lot of the programs that we have.

If you ask most academics what an undergraduate should know, we talk about things like music, art, health, science, math; all traditional areas important to building a well-educated, civic-minded adult. Pressure is coming from corporations and businesses saying ‘We don’t care about that anymore. We want somebody who can think creatively, who can problem-solve, who can manage people.’ I worry we’ll get students focused on exactly what it is they need to know to get a high-paying job and not wanting to take anything extra. 

Committed to excellence

Dean Quam has achieved many lasting contributions at the University of Minnesota. More than 30 years ago, we first met together to complete a federal grant application to prepare graduate students in the School of Social Work to support children with disabilities and their families in schools and communities. She evidenced then and throughout her career a deep commitment to the University’s land-grant mission with its historic commitment to students. Her commitment to excellence, service, and collaboration have established Jean as a major leader of change and innovation at the University of Minnesota and throughout higher education. As dean, she forged important relationships with alumni, donors, students, and colleagues in advancing the mission of her college and the overall impact of the University. She has achieved lasting impact and she will be greatly missed. She has been a unique University leader.

Dr. Robert Bruninks
Past University of Minnesota President and Professor Emeritus

What do your foresee for the educational fields under CEHD’s purview?

Social work and family social science are both fields that are very old and very well established. Unfortunately, there will always be social problems, there will always be kids who can’t live in their family of origin for whatever reason, there will be older people who will need help as they become frail and older—you could go through the litany of all the problems. There’s always going to be a need for somebody to help individuals and help their families and deal with the social problems of the day. 

Jean with Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development gradudate student Obafemi Ogunleye. 

Kinesiology to me is a really exciting, growing field, particularly now with its emphasis on health and wellness and wanting to grow an undergraduate major in that area. I think that’s very important. 

The Institute on Child Development. I’m proud of the fact that we’ve worked hard to have a new building for the institute which will be amazing in terms of research and teaching. Historically, they’ve always been the number one child development program in the nation and I just see it getting stronger and better. 

Educational psychology has a lot of very strong programs within it. I would single out particularly special education. They started offering opportunities to become special education teachers at the undergraduate level and that program’s growing very fast because of the need out there for more teachers. 

Jean’s first-ever international trip as an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota was to the University of Hong Kong. 

Organizational leadership, policy,  and development is particularly known for the impact it has on higher education programs around the world and I see that continuing. The programs that were merged into that department are business and marketing education, and human resource development; those are two of our fastest undergraduate majors. We attract a lot of diverse students into those programs and I think those have a strong future. 

Curriculum and instruction. One of the things that’s exciting there is trying to develop more ways for people to become a teacher. Our MNGOT [U of M Grow Your Own Teachers] program takes paraprofessionals and people with bachelor’s degrees currently working in schools but aren’t able to stop working in order to come get a teaching license. We’ve been able to find them support for tuition and design a program around their schedules so they can get licensed. Another new program is Teacher Scholars of Color to try to get more teachers of color into the system. I think that’s a strong program and will hopefully continue.

Humble, yet impactful

Jean has been a true servant leader whose outwardly humble style has been extremely effective in getting all those around her to focus on the outcome and not the drama. There’s so much raw emotion in education these days that Jean’s very clear, very calm, very human approach has really cut through a lot of the noise. When she talks people listen and that’s meant she’s been able to have a real impact.

R.T. Rybak
CEO, Minneapolis Foundation


My abiding impression of Jean is that she has a warmth and authenticity that seems all-too-rare among senior leaders in higher education. Although CEHD as an enterprise received the benefit of her considerable administrative skill, it seemed to me that students, her contact with them individually, and what she could do on their behalf brought her the greatest satisfaction. She will leave big shoes to fill

Dr. Mark Dienhart
President and CEO of the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation

Listens, learns, and leads

Since my first coffee with Jean, I noticed that she intentionally and thoughtfully listens, learns, and leads…in that fundamentally important sequence. Jean embodies this passionate “learn-it-all” mindset not only with her peers, but with all students, faculty, and staff. When Jean first listened to a small idea about a simple video sharing platform on the launchpad that could, hopefully, make a few impacts across her college, she not only showed up with a tanker of rocket fuel, but also a Top Gun high-five. Thank you, Jean, for your unequivocal energy, passion, and support.

Dr. Charlie Miller
Microsoft Partner GM and Founder of Flipgrid

Looking out for students

She always thought about students and how we could have the best possible outcomes for students. I was always impressed by her calm demeanor and thoughtfulness that accompanied her calming presence.

Dr. Abdul M. Omari
Principal/Founder AMO Enterprise and Regent Emeritus

In terms of your roles as dean and as a faculty member, what motivates you?

Jean visiting alumni and donors in Las Vegas

Relationships. It’s all about relationships. I interview every candidate who comes in for a faculty position. Getting to meet those faculty and hear about the research that they’re doing is very exciting. I love meeting students and hearing about what they’re doing in their programs. I love meeting with alumni. One of my favorite things is talking to somebody who’s 85 years old and still remembers a favorite teacher they had when they were here. I love talking to donors about why they are investing in students and in the college. What motivates me is really the relationships and hearing what’s important to people. 

Let’s take a moment for a speed round:

What is your favorite book of all time? Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver or any book by Ann Patchett.

What is your favorite film? Harold and Maude.

What TV show have you binged or would like to if you had more time? I like murder mysteries like Broadchurch.

What is your favorite song, musician, or musical group? “Old Love” by Neal and Leandra.

What is your favorite website? Facebook.

What is your favorite toy from childhood? I loved board games like Monopoly, Sorry, or Clue.

What historical person, living or dead, would you most like to meet and why? I would love to talk to Jane Addams about her life in Chicago and the start of Hull House.

What is something most people generally don’t know about you that would be surprising? I think I am pretty much an open book. Maybe most people do not know that I have an identical twin sister. Or that I am an introvert.

If education and social work were out of the question, what would be your dream job? I would like to have been a cartoonist.

What is the best piece of advice you were ever given? The Serenity Prayer…there are things I can change and things I cannot change and I need to understand the difference.

What keeps you up at night?

Nothing. (laughs) I sleep like a log. I can’t think of anything actually, other than the dog when the dog has to go out. 


Dean Quam has accomplished so much as dean, and she leaves that post with CEHD in great shape—excellent in the execution of all aspects of its multi-faceted mission. It is not just that she has been a wise and good leader and manager; it seems to me that her personality and her imagination have inflected the work of the college. Her commitment to social justice is inspiring, and her calm, deeply humane approach to the challenges of life is a balm for all of us in these tumultuous times. She has a droll sense of humor, but she is never cynical. She has inspired the college because her commitment to its ideals is sincere and deeply felt.

Dr. Karen Hanson
Executive Vice President and Provost

Puts others first

She always makes it about you, never about her. When you are in her presence, she asks about your family and how you are doing. It’s not gold stars and acclaim she’s after. She’s just so personable and she has such a great sense of humor. And she’s so inclusive. She cares for alums no matter what their status is in life. From retired elementary teachers to retired CEOs, she treats everyone equally. Of the other deans I’ve known over the years, she takes the prize. She is top notch.

Carmen Campbell

Values collaboration

When I was at the Carlson School, I helped to create the Center for Integrated Leadership. I wanted to get collaboration among the collegiate units to focus on leadership. Jean really has been one of the key supporters. She really believes that deans and colleges working together can make a difference. She shines as a leader at the University in finding ways to collaborate with her peers. She’s always under control, I’ve never seen her get ruffled. She’s not afraid of risks.

Jim Campbell

Now it’s your turn to be sage. What piece of advice would you like to leave the next dean? Your colleagues? Students? Alumni? 

Jean hanging with an old friend
Jean during a CEHD-sponsored Gopher football game
Jean and Regent Abdul Omari
at commencement.
Jean with CEHD’s senior management team

For the next dean I want to say fully appreciate the diversity and the breadth and depth that’s in this college. There was a president at the University who came up to me once and said ‘Oh, you’re from the college of education, you educate teachers.’ And I said, ‘Well, yes, but also social workers, counselors, school superintendents, brain researchers, people who are going into physical therapy, people who are in special education…’ I could go on for 15 minutes about all the different people that we educate here. It would be very short sighted to think of our college as just for teacher education.

My advice to colleagues would be the same. We tend to get in our own little niches or silos. For the most part, faculty in the Minneapolis campus don’t know the people who work in St. Paul. One of the things that we’ve tried to do over the years is try to get people together across the programs, across the departments, across the campuses. I would even love to see us work more with the campuses like in Duluth, Crookston, and Morris. I would say meet other people around campus. 

For students I would say this is an amazing place full of lots of opportunities, whether its sports or arts or music or all the different classes that you could take. The same goes for alumni. There are a lot of opportunities here for alumni to come back on campus, whether it’s mentoring students or going to a football game. The University is a real remarkable place when you look at all the corners and all the parts of it. It’s a gift for me personally to have been at the University of Minnesota for 40 years and all the things I’ve gotten to do, all the places I’ve been able to travel, and all the people I’ve been able to meet. And I feel I’ve had fun with my career. I’ve had fun being a dean. Now I’m ready to have fun being a grandmother and a part-time faculty member, and then retired faculty member. It has been a great career. 

Story by Kevin Moe | Photos by Erica Loeks; Courtesy of School of Social Work; Courtesy of Jean Quam | Spring/Summer 2020

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