What is exciting to you about chairing the Executive Board of Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences?
It is always rewarding to work on behalf of an organization that has given so much to you at critical times in your life. Bill and I really enjoyed serving SMU as Parent Leadership Chairs while our daughters were students. We continue to co-chair the Denver Campaign Steering Committee, but moving into another role within the SMU community was an easy decision for me. Dedman College has a special place in my heart, as the College from which I earned my SMU degree. The College was known as “University College” when I first enrolled but during my tenure as a student, the Dedman family graciously endowed it, and it was renamed in their honor.
I was thrilled to be asked to join the College’s Executive Board last year and am excited about taking on the challenging role as its chair. I have the good fortune of having fabulous predecessors who remain active on the Executive Board. Pierce Allman and Leighton Steward are very active patrons along with both Nancy Dedman and Bob Dedman, Jr. Plus, Dedman College is in great hands with Dean Bill Tsutsui at its helm; I am thrilled to be working with such an enthusiastic leader. I plan to do my part along with the Executive Board to advance and enhance Dedman College.
Describe your background and how SMU helped you get to where you are right now.
I am a native Texan though our family moved to New Orleans when I was 3 years old. Fortunately, my mother suggested summer camp, so I spent eight wonderful summers in the Texas Hill Country at Camp Mystic. SMU was the only university I wanted to attend, and I applied early; I still have my acceptance letter! SMU was everything I hoped it would be. I was able to explore many options on campus that helped shape my life. From the fun of football games, sorority life and serving as Pi Phi’s Treasurer, to spending a summer as an AARO leader, performing in Pigskin and Parents Weekend shows, and participating in academic clubs such as our AAPG Student Chapter, I loved life at SMU!
After graduating, I returned to New Orleans and worked for my father’s oil and gas company until Bill and I married two years later. The oil and gas business was in terrible shape in 1984, so finding a job in my field in Denver was practically impossible. Instead, we opted to start our family and within four years we had three kids - it was sink or swim time! Just to make it even more frightening, we took the huge leap in 1985 to establish our own business, Armstrong Oil & Gas, Inc. I served as Bill’s only support system during those early years when it was a one-man shop founded in our garage attic. It was incredibly helpful that both of us understood the science and economics of the oil and gas industry. The inherent risks in our business are huge.
As we moved into the wine business, it was geology that took us to Paso Robles for the limestone and siliceous soils. In fact, we named our winery, Epoch Estate Wines, after the geologic time division known as an Epoch. What we learned in our geology major, in our minors (History and Economics), in our various liberal arts classes and by participating in the Greek system, helped us succeed in our life and businesses.
Please share a story or anecdote about a transformative experience at SMU and Dedman College.
We had a wonderful group of peers in geology. Numerous overnight off-campus field trips helped forge great friendships. By the time we arrived at Ft. Burgwin for our most difficult assignment, six weeks at SMU-in-Taos with only one day off each week, we were a close group of colleagues who supported and encouraged each other. At field camp we put all of our geologic knowledge to work. There was always so much to accomplish and learn in those long days: hiking and mapping, even longer nights writing up the days’ work and the ridiculous group fun we had in our scant time off. This is where Bill and I fell in love! As I drove off the Taos campus for the last time, I stopped my car and buried my well-worn tennis shoes about ten feet into the woods. I can truly say that there will always be a part of me at SMU-in-Taos!
Describe your thoughts on the value of a liberal arts education.
I believe strongly in the value of a liberal arts education. Bill and I earned our Bachelor of Science degrees in geology, but today we often find that it is the elective classes taken to fulfill our liberal arts requirements that we talk about most in our everyday lives. Some of our favorite courses were in Art History, Sociology, Economics, Shakespeare and Religious Studies.
We have an unwritten family motto, “Be Interesting or Interested.” To achieve this goal one must first appreciate the company of people and social interaction with all types of personalities. The backbone of the conversation then requires knowledge of a broad range of topics supported by a well-rounded education. We are so grateful to have our Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences liberal arts experience, which affects our life daily and adds color to our everyday experiences.
What are your goals and dreams for Dedman College in the next five years? And what can be done to realize those dreams?
I would love to see Dedman College at the forefront of liberal arts colleges nationally. We recently implemented the Dedman College Scholars Program and, as a sponsor, I see first-hand the amazing students who are attending SMU due to a donor’s generosity. I hope to increase research grants. Dedman College provides incredible research, whether in biology, psychology, economics, etc. This is such an important part of a thriving university. The Dean’s Research Council is a program designed to award younger faculty with seed money for smaller research projects in the hope that they will be able to leverage their results into a larger government grant; I would like to see this focus broaden so that SMU can continue to grow as a well-respected research university. The John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies is an incredible resource for SMU and an integral part of Dedman College. I am excited that we will soon have the Tower Scholars and a first-rate certificate program focused on policy-making which will draw an even broader range of applicants to SMU. There also is the relationship with the George W. Bush Presidential Center to explore. Think of the amazing possibilities for our students!
There is so much happening right now in Dedman College. I am excited about the new Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute and look forward to helping accomplish the College’s strategic plan. I hope to bring the same enthusiasm to the Executive Board that Dean Tsutsui exudes, and I look forward to welcoming new, active board members this fall. I want to engage more alumni from around the United States, and our first outreach will be to activate a Houston alumni committee. I believe that Dedman College graduates are among the best, and I look forward to furthering the College’s reputation nationally.