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Saturday, June 10, 2023

Nicole Stedman takes on new position as Dean of UF’s Graduate School

Her role involves understanding graduate issues, administering policies and advocating for the graduate students.

Photograph of Nicole Stedman. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Stedman)
Photograph of Nicole Stedman. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Stedman)

Graduate students have been unsatisfied with UF’s administration and lack of transparency, but UF’s new Graduate School dean intends to give graduate students a voice within the university.

Nicole Stedman, soon-to-be associate provost and dean of UF’s Graduate School, will be responsible for understanding the current issues the Graduate School faces and administer communication between the university and graduate students. She was chosen for the role over two other finalists. 

Current Graduate Dean Henry Frierson will leave the position late May, and Stedman will take over June 1. The Office of Academic Affairs began searching for the next Graduate School dean early February when Frierson announced his decision to step down from his position.

With this new appointment and obligations also comes high expectations. 

Complaints about lack of transparency and effective communication have been a top concern following a proposed decrease in graduate and family housing capacity and mistreatment of graduate students — which some believe led to the suicide of Huixiang Chen in 2019. 

Stedman said she plans to address these issues by spending her first 60 days focused on connecting with graduate students and staff. She said she plans on establishing direct and constant communication with the Graduate Student Council to better understand how she can help the graduate school as a whole.

“I really want to help our graduate students strengthen their voice and strengthen the opportunity they have to speak out about the issues that they're experiencing,” Stedman said.

Graduate Student Council President Jonathan Orsini described his advisor, Stedman, as energetic, motivated and polished. 

Orsini is a strong advocate for graduate students who have lost trust in UF’s administration. According to Orsini, President Fuchs asked the provost to include Orsini in the original committee to decide which candidates were chosen to be interviewed.

Orsini said Stedman took the time to investigate the pressing issues influencing graduate students and address them clearly and concisely during the interview. 

“She's a good person who has all the professional requirements you would want to see for somebody in this position,” Orsini said. “I don't think you could have a better candidate.”

Stedman has been a part of the Gator community for about 20 years. She graduated in 1998 with a Bachelor of Science in family, youth and community sciences, Master of Science in agricultural education in 2001 and her Ph.D in agricultural education in 2004. From there, Stedman has taught classes for the department of agricultural education and communication and is a current associate chair.

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As a three-time Gator alumna and former UF professor, Stedman said she understands the importance of feeling heard. She said she wants to give back to the students of the school that has provided so many opportunities for her.

“I want to be very sensitive and very supportive of those students who are struggling and who are having difficulties,” Stedman said. “Trying to figure out how we can make their experience here at the University of Florida the best possible.” 

Stedman said being both a past UF graduate student and a faculty member, she is able to understand the more contemporary issues that graduate students are facing. Stedman said she wants to not only focus on communication but also on ensuring students' needs are met through their fellowships, scholarships and funding opportunities.

Elaine Turner, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences dean, was also a part of the search screen committee where she reviewed applications and made recommendations to the provost. 

“I think she'll bring a lot of energy to the role,” Turner said. “I think she's gained insight from all of those roles and responsibilities that she'll bring to the position.”

Following lack of transparency toward graduate students, organizations like Graduate Assistants United and Graduate Student Council are demanding change in the form of communication, housing and in the way UF handled Chen’s suicide. 

Amanda Pritzlaff, a representative for Graduates Assistants United, feels the dismissal by the Confidential Report of Investigation of an abusive work environment is a big oversight.

“It's showing that UF's intellectual property, which is viewed as precious, is prioritized over the graduate worker’s life,” she said.

Stedman said she will approach her new position from a very strategic standpoint to ensure the Graduate School is working as effectively and efficiently as it can.

“I am excited about being able to champion graduate programs and our graduate students for the university,” Stedman said. “I'm excited about working with the graduate school staff and making what we do better. You know, it's just so profoundly important to me to do this well.”

Contact Isabella Douglas at Follow her on Twitter @Ad_Scribendum.

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Isabella Douglas

Isabella Douglas is a third-year journalism major and the digital managing editor for The Alligator. She has previously worked as the metro editor, criminal justice reporter on the Metro desk and as a news assistant for the University desk. When she isn't reporting, she can be found reorganizing her bookshelf and adding books to her ever-growing TBR. 

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