Jim Dees Relishes Being 'Small Part' of World Changers' Journeys for 35 Years

As Jim Dees, M.S., M.T.S., celebrates 35 years as an SMU staffer, the beloved mentor and wisdom-keeper reflects on his journey.

From the time of scantron machines to the time of generative AI, Jim Dees has been living his life in 4-year cycles.

“That’s how it is at a university,” said Jim, who joined SMU May 8, 1989, when gas was less than a dollar a gallon, George H. W. Bush was president, and SMU didn’t have a football team.

Today, Jim has served under six different engineering deans and two SMU presidents. He has attended 31 graduation ceremonies and was present at the naming of Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering. Over the years, Jim has relished the reward of watching hundreds, and – cumulatively – thousands of students “grow and develop into the brave new world.” 

“When I first got out of graduate school in 1989 and moved to Dallas, I aspired to work on one of those grand glass towers downtown,” he said. “Instead, I’ve spent 35 years working in a beautiful park-like setting in a place that – while frenzied at times – there has rarely been a day that I haven’t looked forward to coming to work.”

When Jim stepped onto the SMU campus for his first day of work, he didn’t plan to become the longest-tenured staff member at SMU Lyle School of Engineering. But it has become his path, he said.

“The J. Lindsay Embrey building was just a parking lot back then,” he said. “We had no elevators and now every building does. It’s amazing to have been present for these changes.”

Upon joining SMU in 1989, Jim quickly learned why the registrar’s office is a great place to learn the ins and outs of SMU. Working in that position for two years, one of his tasks was to write documentation for the “new and emergent technology of 1990” scantron machines.

“In 1990, scantron machines started coming into play,” he said. “I began writing the documentation for that project. “Coincidentally, I was assigned to the School of Engineering and Applied Science to handle academic questions about transcripts and diplomas.”

In 1991, Jim applied for and was appointed Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions at the School of Engineering where his job focused primarily on recruiting and admissions.

“Back then, admissions and recruiting looked very different than today,” Jim said. “It was piles and piles of papers typed on a typewriter.”

For three years, Jim worked in graduate admissions, attending education fairs hosted by the biggest industry leaders such as TI, Motorola, Ericsson, Nokia, and Martin Marietta, now Lockheed Martin. In 1994, he was promoted to Director of Graduate Student Records, where he worked with graduate students one-on-one. Currently, he serves as the Executive Director of Student Experience and Scholarship.

Jim said he is grateful for the many connections and lasting relationships he has made at SMU Lyle. Being witness to the physical changes over the last 35 years has also been impactful, he said. He was here for the launch of the Jerry B. Junkins building in 2002, the J. Lindsay Embrey building in 2006, and Caruth Hall in 2010.

“The day I walked into the HR office to see if SMU was hiring, I never would’ve guessed I’d be here 35 years later,” Jim said. “This is like a family, a comfortable quiet place to be. Every day I am here, I really feel like I am doing something impactful. The biggest lesson I have learned after all these years is that things should never stay the same and change is good.”

During his tenure at SMU, Jim earned a master’s in theology from SMU Perkins.

“I think since getting my pastor’s credentials, people tend to trust me a bit more,” he said.

Jim’s favorite SMU tradition is the celebration of lights every November. Looking back on his career, he has most enjoyed “seeing the diversity of research conducted by our students and the applicability to problems in the world.”

That, and “just being a small part of their journey as they change the world.”

To celebrate his 35th anniversary with SMU, he will attend graduation this weekend, and soon after, will take a camping trip. 

About the Bobby Lyle School of Engineering

SMU's Lyle School of Engineering thrives on innovation that transcends traditional boundaries. We strongly believe in the power of externally funded, industry-supported research to drive progress and provide exceptional students with valuable industry insights. Our mission is to lead the way in digital transformation within engineering education, all while ensuring that every student graduates as a confident leader. Founded in 1925, SMU Lyle is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest, offering undergraduate and graduate programs, including master’s and doctoral degrees.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, community and the world.