Health Sciences Report Fall 2004

Bridge Builder:
New College of Health Dean Connects Diverse Departments
By Cindy Fazzi

Photos by Tim Kelly

The University of Utah College of Health has 1,600 students—the equivalent of the enrollment in the School of Medicine and colleges of Nursing and Pharmacy combined. Its seven divisions and departments—with specialty areas ranging from foods and nutrition to physical therapy to communication disorders—operate 11 laboratories and five clinics. The college also manages five gyms, three swimming pools, a dance studio, three outdoor playing fields, five racquetball courts, and 24 tennis courts.

The college’s enormity and diversity are a good thing, except they seem to be the reason that not many people know what the College of Health is. It’s a paradox that doesn’t escape James E. (“Jay” to friends and colleagues) Graves, Ph.D., professor of exercise and sport science, and college dean.

Many confuse the college with the health sciences center, which includes the medical school and the colleges of Health, Nursing, and Pharmacy.

Semantic confusion aside, Graves knows there’s a need to increase public awareness of the college as an entity. “We are a fairly diverse college,” he said. “It’s not surprising that our students, and even faculty and staff, tend to identify themselves with their departments and divisions, instead of their college.”

When Graves became dean in July 2003, there were other concerns as well. “I’ve looked at our facilities very carefully, and there are few bright spots,” conceded Graves. He found plenty of sports facilities, but most of them need work.

His other major concern is research funding. “We have a strong faculty,” said Graves, noting their numerous published studies, most recently in the Journal of Physical Therapy, Journal of Nutrition, and American Psychologist. “We can do a better job of generating external funding to contribute to the University’s overall research mission.”

The 50-year-old Graves has tackled similar challenges in the past. A native of Stamford, Conn., Graves has spent the past two decades as a researcher, professor, and administrator in different universities. He has a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Ithaca College, a master’s degree in the same field from Central Connecticut State University, and a Ph.D. in exercise science from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Graves began as a researcher in Houston, working with Michael Pollock, a well-known exercise physiologist. In 1986, a large grant sent them to the University of Florida in Gainesville, where they established a center for exercise science, complete with laboratories, clinics, and offices. “It was daunting,” recalled Graves. “But I had a good mentor, and I was too naïve to be scared.”

Throughout his seven years in Florida, Graves also taught. “He’s incredibly understanding and patient with students,” said Lynn Panton, who was mentored by Graves and now is an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise at Florida State University. “That’s one thing I learned from him that I now do with my own students.”

Graves also bolstered his research and publication portfolio while at Florida, but it was his talent for organization and leadership that landed him the position of department chair at Syracuse University.

“Jay has the leadership qualities I was looking for. He’s a creative scholar who understands how to collaborate and engage others in program development,” said Steven Bossert, dean and professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California at Riverside, who hired Graves at Syracuse in 1998.

From exercise science department chair, Graves became associate dean for graduate studies, budget, and research at Syracuse in 2000 until 2003.

Graves brought to the U the same brand of passion he had in Florida and Syracuse. Within a year, he has taken the crucial first steps in realizing the University’s dream of a new building that would bring together the College of Health’s departments and divisions, which are currently spread across the campus and Research Park.

The state legislature, while it will not fund the project, has approved the plan. Graves has initiated planning for a development campaign to raise funds from private donors.

Despite this pressing task, Graves has not overlooked academics. He recently started an honors degree program and established seed money for research as an incentive for faculty members. He’s also teaching a course called “Resistance Training for Health and Rehabilitation.”

Faculty members are upbeat about the college’s overall direction. Lee Dibble, P.T., Ph.D., clinical associate professor in the Division of Physical Therapy, attended some of the presentations during the search for college dean. He was impressed with Graves from the beginning. “He has a well-defined vision for advancing research in the college,” he said.

Beverly G. Webber, M.S., R.D., C.D., clinical instructor in the Department of Foods and Nutrition, likes the new dean’s management style: “Dean Graves is a bridge builder and a true leader.”

Indeed, Graves has been working on bridging not only the distance among the different departments within his college, but also between the college and other health sciences entities. He plans to create an interdisciplinary graduate program in disability studies that will call for close collaboration.

Reflecting on the past year, Graves said: “The first year is always about learning. I want to move aggressively, but not recklessly.”

The new dean may tread carefully in matters involving the college, but he’s decidedly bolder at play. Graves, his wife, Lori, who works for Organizational Development Services at the University’s Human Resources Department, and their two teenagers, Alex and Taylor, are enjoying Utah. They like to hike and snowshoe, and the children were especially eager to learn how to snowboard when they first got here. Not surprisingly, Graves—a distance runner in high school and a swimmer in college—took up snowboarding himself.

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