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Meet the Dean | Kurt Jefferson brings global perspective to graduate studies

Steve Jones
 Spalding University has hired a seasoned educational leader with experience starting academic programs, creating speaking series and thinking globally about local issues to oversee its graduate programs.

Kurt Jefferson, who previously served as assistant dean of global initiatives at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, was named Spalding’s dean of graduate education late last semester. He said he’s eager to get to work supporting and enhancing the university’s 12 graduate programs while engaging with the Louisville community and promoting Spalding’s mission.

“Spalding has done a wonderful job – far ahead of a lot of other schools our size – as far as the graduate infrastructure that’s already here,” Jefferson said. “I want to help build the infrastructure even more and create new graduate and professional offerings.

“I also want to have that public relations component that helps us market and tell the story of what a Spalding education does for our students. … (Graduate programs) exist to propagate and explain the importance of lifelong learning and what advanced degrees can do for people’s careers and mindsets. Coming back and taking courses or getting that extra degree – a master’s or a doctorate or a certificate – there’s real value in that. … Advanced training is going to improve the workforce, improve the education of the citizenry and make not only our economy better but make for better citizens for the country.”

Jefferson, who earned a doctorate and master’s degree in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia after graduating magna cum laude from Western Illinois University, spent 24 years at Westminster in various teaching and administrative roles.

He had an emphasis on international relations, global politics and transnational studies and led the creation of the Churchill Institute for Global Engagement. He helped bolster study-abroad programs and international studies offerings, and he developed a major annual weeklong symposium with more than 20 speakers and an audience of 1,000.

Over the years, Jefferson landed high-profile speakers such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Secretary of State James Baker, neuroscientist and PBS host of “The Brain” David Eagleman and forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu, who famously researched the effects of brain injuries on football players and was portrayed by Will Smith in the movie “Concussion.”

“It’s something I hope to replicate here,” Jefferson said of the speaking series. “It allows graduate students and graduate faculty to continue the intellectual discourse on campus and in the community. It allows for important topics to be discussed.”

Jefferson brought Spalding President Tori Murden McClure to the Westminster symposium in 2013 to speak about her work at Spalding as well as her personal story of rowing solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Jefferson said McClure was one of the best speakers Westminster had during the 11 years he ran the symposium, and her talk was a big reason why he was interested in the graduate dean’s position at Spalding.

Jefferson said Spalding’s mission, which is rooted in social justice, compassion and community building and is championed by McClure, appealed to him.

Jefferson already was familiar with Kentucky. His father, Robert Jefferson, was the dean of the college of business at Western Kentucky University from 1996 to 2006, and Kurt Jefferson made multiple visits to Bowling Green.

After teaching for a long time in the small town of Fulton, Kurt Jefferson said he was eager to work in a large, growing city like Louisville, where he believes there is the potential for city-wide growth in graduate and professional programs.

Jefferson helped organize a program in social entrepreneurship at Westminster, and he said he hopes to increase engagement between Spalding’s grad programs and businesses and nonprofits in Louisville. He also sees potential for new interdisciplinary areas of study in sustainability and sustainable technologies.

He said he’s proud that Spalding’s health science grad programs value having their students work with and treat underserved populations, and he hopes to keep encouraging that.

And with his expertise in global studies and politics, Jefferson said he’d like to encourage conversations on campus about transnational issues – ranging from disease to the financial markets – that will affect Spalding’s grad students.

“I think I can bring some leadership in that area,” he said, “and my hope is to have graduate students discussing these things at Spalding and then taking them out beyond the community.”

Learn more about Spalding’s graduate programs at Spalding.edu/graduate-programs and Spalding.edu/graduate-students.