Charting a course
Charting a course
Charting a course
Dan Clay’s new role as dean of the University of Iowa College of Education is more than an exciting job opportunity: It’s a homecoming of sorts.
Clay, who began as dean on July 1, comes to the UI from the University of Missouri, where he was dean of the College of Education since 2010. He served as a tenure-track faculty member in the UI College of Education’s counseling psychology program from 1997 to 2006.
“Just coming back here to work with the people I know is a really special opportunity for both me and my wife,” Clay says. “We know the great work that’s done in this college, so returning to serve the college in this way is just a tremendous honor for me and a real privilege.”
Early in his career, Clay took a three-month leave of absence from a medical school faculty position to work on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska’s Bering Sea. His dream is to fly float planes some day in Alaska.
Clay, who is from Minnesota, and his wife, Kelly, moved to Iowa City in 1997 after they were married. Their three sons, Landon, 14; Braydon, 12; and Holdon, 10, were born here.
“We love Iowa City, so the opportunity to come back and re-engage with the community here is just really exciting for us,” he says.
Clay, 48, is a nationally recognized scholar and fellow of the American Educational Research Association and the American Psychological Association. He has authored the award-winning book Helping Schoolchildren with Chronic Health Conditions: A Practical Guide. His most recent research has focused on reintegrating children who have experienced chronic illness back into schools and communities.
The 17th dean of the College of Education, Clay succeeds Nicholas Colangelo, who served as dean since 2012.
Clay earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota; a Master of Arts in educational and counseling psychology from the University of Missouri; and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of Missouri. He also received a higher education administration certificate through the Management Development Program at Harvard University and an MBA from the University of Missouri Trulaske College of Business.
What is your vision for the College of Education?
Nick (Colangelo) has done an extraordinary job here and provided excellent leadership, and from what I can see, has really advanced the mission of the institution. So, I’m really excited to be able to pick it up where Nick has left it in such a wonderful place. My focus is significantly geared toward continuous improvement—using data and systematic data-driven improvement efforts that result in better student outcomes, working conditions, increased productivity, and greater student, faculty, and staff satisfaction in the workplace.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing the field of education in general, and for the college specifically?
In education in general, earning and keeping the public’s trust is really important. More than ever, we’re held accountable for being good stewards of public resources, and the public expects to see from us the kind of positive impact that their resources support for our community.
Another major challenge is that the financial models in higher education and K–12 education are not sustainable in the long term. So it’s going to be a challenge for us to understand our new place within the economy and how we can run educational institutions in ways that meet the mission and goals of the institution, while at the same time finding ways to control costs and generate revenue.
There’s also the pressure to perform. People are saying that schools are broken and that there’s a lot of public and political pressure to reform—even when people don’t understand what that reform is. It’s easy to say K–12 is broken, and oftentimes teachers are blamed, which is very unfortunate and is frankly why I think we’re seeing fewer people willing to go into the profession of teaching. So that is a real challenge, this assumption that somehow education is broken and needs to be fixed.
In addition to being a scholar, you’re also an entrepreneur and you went to Harvard for additional training. Tell us about the three businesses you’ve started.
The first business I started was a production craft brewery in Columbia, Missouri. I exited after successful expansion and bringing on new investors. That really got the juices flowing in terms of entrepreneurship, so I decided to go back to be a full-time student to get my MBA.
Another company I started is a joint venture between the University of Missouri and some investors. It’s the first of its kind in the 175-year history of the university and it allowed us to scale our online, private high school. I really wanted to grow the number of students enrolled in our high school, and to do that requires you to be very agile and respond to market demands quickly and efficiently. You can’t always do that when you operate inside a university, so I started a separate for-profit entity that was half-owned by the university and half-owned by investors. We are now up from 2,000 to about 25,000 to 30,000 student enrollments and growing rapidly—largely through the hard work of the employees in that high school. The whole idea behind this online high school was that we would use it to support the academic mission of the university, such as using this virtual school to train teachers online. And on the research side, now we have this virtual environment where we can test new ideas.
The third business is called EpicEd, which I started with a business partner. EpicEd is a gaming company where we use a video-gaming context to teach kids important life lessons that all of us probably learned in regular sports or extracurricular activities. Kids today are playing more video games and participating in eSports. I have three boys, and I swear they would play video games all day if you let them—I mean they wouldn’t even stop to eat. As a parent I was worried that they were missing out on opportunities to learn things through social interaction and competition that as they get older would help them be successful. EpicEd is focused on three platforms: social fitness, physical fitness, and mental fitness. You can’t fight the video games, so we’ve learned to harness that interest, energy, and desire in a way that helps kids develop skills, and that makes their parents really happy.
What is the relationship between education and entrepreneurship? How do they complement each other?
One of the interesting things that I’ve learned is that in order for new innovations to be scalable and sustainable, they have to be incentivized. Oftentimes our faculty members will receive a grant or develop an incredible new product or process that we know has market value because it serves a really important need, but when the grant runs out, they put it on the shelf and it’s done. So how do we take that product or innovation and reach the most people to have the largest impact? The way to do that is to provide a financial incentive for it to happen. Entrepreneurship is a way to bring really good ideas in higher education into the marketplace, to make an impact that’s both scalable and sustainable.
I also think it provides incentive for others to take risks. We’re so risk-avoidant in higher ed that we’d rather not try than risk failing, and we miss a lot of opportunities that way. We have to be comfortable with some level of measured risk because there’s no such thing as innovation without risk.
What do you like to do for fun?
I like to have fun at work; that’s really important to me. And that’s one of the things I’m excited about is I know that when I worked here (at the UI) before, there wasn’t a day that I wasn’t excited to come to work because we were doing really meaningful work, but we were also having a lot of fun, and I expect that we will continue to do that.
Outside of work, I love to do outdoor stuff. I have three boys, and I’m very involved in Boy Scouts, so we do a lot of hiking, camping, canoeing, and fishing. I’m also a pilot, so I like to fly airplanes, and I was really involved in the aviation community when I was here before. I also enjoy spending time with my family, traveling, and engaging with their schools.
And I love Whitey’s pumpkin ice cream shakes; that’s a big one.