The University of Texas-Pan American has selected Dr. Walter Diaz, a professor in the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Puerto-Rico-Mayagüez (UPRM) and associate director of UPRM's Center for Applied Social Research, as the new dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
"Dr. Diaz has served in several administrative roles in his current institution and has extensive research experience, generating a significant amount of funding from external agencies, including the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Sea Grant Program, among others. He has also been actively engaged in a number of important academic and research initiatives that are interdisciplinary in nature. Clearly, these are important characteristics and experiences that are needed to lead the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences," Rodríguez said.
Diaz said he was impressed by the professionalism and commitment of both the faculty and staff members he met during his interview and is both grateful and nervous about his new position.
"On the one hand I am very grateful of the honor of receiving the support of so many committed persons. On the other hand, there is always the feeling of anxiety that comes from the desire to measure up to the trust that is being placed in me," he said.
Diaz said the center at UPRM that he has helped direct since 1998 promotes the application of social science theory and methodology to practical issues that affect society. He has also served as acting chair of UPRM's Department of Social Sciences, which offers degree programs in political science, psychology, sociology, history and general social studies, employs more than 40 faculty members and serves 800 students in degree programs as well as more than 4,000 additional students with service courses.
"I am not unfamiliar with needing to juggle scarce resources to satisfy the sometimes competing needs of multiple constituencies. Furthermore, my background at the Center for Applied Social Research, along with my training in methodology, help me to be conversant with both the theories and methods of different disciplines, both within and outside the social sciences," Diaz said.
A native of Puerto Rico, Diaz earned his bachelor's degree in political science (magna cum laude) from UPRM and both his master's and Ph.D. in political science from The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
Initially an engineering major, Diaz said his interest in political science was first sparked by taking an introductory course in the discipline as an elective that was taught by an outspoken, inspiring professor.
"Within political science, I am particularly attracted to issues regarding individual decision making and political participation. More generally, in terms of the social sciences, it is the notion that many, if not most of the problems we face as a society are, to a large extent, functions of inadequate decision making and/or social organization," he said.
His primary areas of expertise include political participation, political campaign publicity and financing as well as societal dimensions of disasters. His interdisciplinary research is extensive, including participation at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst's Engineering Research Center and a number of projects with engineers, meteorologists and other social scientists. He is also a current collaborator on the U.S. National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program.
"He is a quantitative researcher who has also conducted a significant amount of qualitative research. His experiences and background in interdisciplinary research will allow him to develop new initiatives within his college and across other colleges at UTPA," Rodríguez said.
Dr. Gary Montgomery, a professor of psychology in the UTPA's College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and chair of the University's Search Committee composed of faculty and students, said Diaz met all the top qualities the committee wanted in a new dean. He said they wanted a consensus and unity builder within the college, a person who worked well within multiple disciplines, a successful researcher who would help faculty seek external funding and a dean who was familiar with the culture and customs of Rio Grande Valley students.
"Dr. Diaz showed a great deal of patience as well as a reflective, calm disposition in his interview. We liked his statements ... that he believed UTPA had great potential to move forward," Montgomery said.
Diaz said his immediate goals for the college include developing a strategic plan for years beyond 2012, strengthening its current graduate programs and exploring opportunities to create new ones, and increasing both research and service activity within the college.
"(Increasing research and service) will lead to increased financial resources, greater academic visibility, stronger ties with local, regional, state and national governmental and non-governmental organizations, and very importantly, increased opportunities for research mentorship for both our graduate and undergraduate students," he said.
Rodríguez expressed his thanks for the work by the Search Committee and the leadership of Dr. Kristin Croyle, assistant dean who served as interim dean for the college during the yearlong search process.
Diaz and his wife, who is also a professor at UPRM, have two children. His first day on the job at UTPA will be Sept. 1.