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April 26, 2010

La Vonne I. Neal
La Vonne I. Neal

La Vonne I. Neal named dean of NIU College of Education

DeKalb, Ill. — An educator whose background includes world-class accomplishment in track and field, military intelligence for the U.S. Army and management roles inside Fortune 500 companies is the new dean of the Northern Illinois University College of Education.

La Vonne I. Neal, currently dean of the College of Education at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, will assume the top job July 1 pending Board of Trustees approval. Neal replaces Lemuel Watson, who took over the college in 2007.

Established in 1960, the college advances NIU’s century-long history of preparing professional educators for the region and nation with an enrollment near 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The college is home to more than 120 faculty, more than 40 endowed scholarships and vibrant partnerships with nine local school districts and other non-school organizations.

Neal, co-editor of the Black History Bulletin, brings to NIU her nationally renowned scholarship in the need for culturally responsive teaching.

She also offers an imaginative ability to cope with diminished state funding – Colorado has significantly reduced its support of public universities – and proven success with tapping unique sources of external dollars.

“I’m excited,” says Neal, dean at UCCS since 2005. “What’s exciting is the rich heritage of NIU, starting out as a Normal School, and my opportunities to join an operation that already has a tremendous history and legacy and to collaborate with faculty, staff and students to enhance that.”

Neal will guide NIU’s College of Education through the upcoming reaccreditation process with the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, NIU Provost Raymond Alden says.

She also will lead continued efforts to enhance and expand external partnerships and engagement and to further develop strategic plans.

“Five years as a sitting dean gives someone a major experience base. Everything we’ve heard about her, and from her, suggests that she has done some very important things at her current university, and that obviously is good for predicting her potential for success at NIU,” Alden says.

“Dr. Neal also offers unique qualifications from her military service and through extensive experience in the private sector,” Alden adds. “She knows a great deal about what our external constituencies, both public and private, might need from our university.”

Neal set her life’s direction on the high school tracks of her native Philadelphia.

She notched a U.S. record in the 80-meter hurdles at age 16, one of many victories that sealed her eventual induction to the Pennsylvania High School Track and Field Hall of Fame and afforded her the opportunity to travel and complete globally.

Forty years later, she calls herself “a person who enjoys challenges that require her to move quickly and traverse difficult obstacles.”

Her education career began after management stints with corporations such as Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods and Miller Brewing Co. sparked her “personal commitment to the development of human potential.”

She enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned a master’s degree in special education and a Ph.D. in special education with an emphasis in multicultural education. After five years as a social studies teacher in Texas, she joined the faculty at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, and served as director of the university’s secondary education teacher certification program.

At UCCS, Neal implemented a new culture of assessment throughout the college’s programs.

She also oversaw the creation of a new doctorate program in educational leadership, research and policy, and online master’s degree programs in curriculum and instruction, special education and counseling.

At NIU, she plans to carry out the words of the college’s mission statement and vision, which begins, “The College of Education, in its leadership role in the state and region, prepares professional educators who are responsive to the needs of constituencies and audiences with whom they interact.”

“There is national concern for students’ academic success, and when you look at the data, we have low graduation rates across the country. That speaks directly to the mission for colleges of education, and I truly believe NIU is uniquely poised to be the architects of that change for the United States,” Neal says.

“When you look at the operation as it exists, with its doctoral programs, we will be able to prepare the new scriptwriters,” she adds. “We’re sparking their genius to impact policy, to impact research and to impact practice in the schools at every level, whether it’s teaching, leadership or counseling.”

Graduates from the NIU College of Education are “critical thinkers and computational thinkers” for whom problem-solving will become a prominent part of their careers, Neal says: They must prepare their students for the jobs of the future, many of which don’t exist today.

During her interview at NIU, as she stayed in the Holmes Student Center hotel and conducted an open forum with students, Neal says she met several future alumni who already are bringing to life what they’re learning in their courses.

“I felt an excitement. I felt a community. I felt the passion the faculty, staff and students have for the university,” Neal says. “You can hardly measure something like that.”

Neal’s appointment will go before the NIU Board of Trustees at its May 13 meeting.

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Media Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Media Relations and Internal Communications
Phone: (815) 753-9472
Email: mmcgowan@niu.edu