KEARNEY – Ryan Teten wasn’t looking for a reason to leave the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
He and his family were happy with life on the bayou, where Teten served as an associate dean and political science professor.
But the opportunity to return to his home state to lead the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s newly created College of Arts and Sciences was simply too good to pass up.
“My wife and I always say God sends us neon signs,” Teten said. “He’s never been subtle. The decisions have always been pretty clear.”
Teten, who was raised in eastern Nebraska and helps his family manage a 5,000-acre farm near Merna in the Sandhills, was selected in February as the inaugural dean of UNK’s College of Arts and Sciences. He assumed the position July 1, nearly a year after the college was formed by merging the colleges of Natural and Social Sciences and Fine Arts and Humanities.
“The combination of those two colleges to form the College of Arts and Sciences presents such an exciting opportunity to have these usually disparate elements merged in ways that nobody has thought of – for the good of the students,” Teten said. “I think the very conjoining of those two colleges kind of breaks down silos. Sometimes we as faculty operate only within our discipline and don’t necessarily branch out, and this college merger kind of forces a branching out or a reenvisioning.”
Teten expects to see a culture shift within the college that leads to more collaboration among departments, including interdisciplinary research projects, additional opportunities for student engagement and new programs that pull from a variety of academic areas.
“Interdisciplinary programs are going to be very important to the future of all institutions,” he said. “The trend nationally has been to start breaking apart the silos that are departments and allow students to come in and craft a path that best suits their end goal.”
Teten mentioned cyber systems, an online Bachelor of General Studies program, a systems engineering degree and a performing arts and medicine certificate as current and future programs that could fit this cross-disciplinary vision.
“These are absolutely fantastic ways to combine humanities, liberal arts and hard sciences together to make a degree that will give our students experience and knowledge that’s head and shoulders above what might come out of a program that has those rigid containments,” he said.
Plus, Teten added, many employers are looking for well-rounded graduates with a broader range of training who can evolve over time.
“Companies are preferring that ability to adapt,” he said.
Teten, who holds bachelor’s degrees in political science and English from Clemson University and a master’s and doctorate in political science from Vanderbilt University, called the “extraordinarily talented” faculty and diversity of programs the strengths of UNK’s College of Arts and Sciences.
“When you have faculty who feel supported and are excited about what they’re doing and working together for the good of the university, that trickles down to the students. And they’re going to see innumerable benefits,” Teten said. “We have an excellent opportunity to marshal all of those different strengths to become one core strength.”
The new dean also wants to ensure all of this hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.
In addition to collaborating with faculty to set “visionary” goals for each department, Teten plans to get out in the community to promote UNK and create a sense of connectivity.
“I’m the biggest cheerleader for these programs and I just cannot wait to get in front of the schools and get in front of community groups to basically yell from the rooftops about the things we’ve been doing,” he said.
Along with in-school visits, he wants to see more programs and events that bring middle and high school students from across the state to campus.
“You can’t walk across UNK’s campus without going, ‘Man, this is a great college campus. It feels right and it’s beautiful and they have these incredible programs and disciplines,’” Teten said. “That’s what’s going to be key, telling the story of Loper life in a way that focuses not only on the academics but on the strengths of Kearney, all the faculty and all the support structures we have here.”
After all, those were all important factors when Teten and his family decided to move here.
Teten, who spent four years as an assistant professor at Northern Kentucky University before joining Louisiana-Lafayette in 2008, is happy to be back in the Heartland in a vibrant, diverse community with big-city amenities and small-town charm.
“Kearney checked many of the boxes, and UNK checked all the rest,” said Teten, whose daughter Aidan attends Louisiana-Lafayette and son Alexander will begin classes this month as a broadcasting and journalism student at UNK.
Even his wife Tonya, a North Carolina native who’s never experienced a Midwest winter, is excited about their new home.
“As of now she constantly says we’re living our best life, and I really feel that way,” Teten said. “From the environment to the community to the university, it’s just been fantastic.”