The world was a very different place when Michelle DenBeste accepted an offer to become CWU’s new provost and vice president for academic and student life early last year.
There was no such thing as a COVID-19 pandemic and the idea that a college might have to shut down and convert overnight to remote learning was unimaginable.
On March 16, 2020, the university announced DenBeste’s appointment. Four days later, it announced that all in-person classes and labs were canceled, all learning would immediately shift to remote instruction, and all in-person, university-sponsored events were canceled.
Since then, one could say that DenBeste has been busy. Previously the dean of the College of Social Sciences at California State University, Fresno, DenBeste began working at Central on May 18. She had to coordinate a move during a pandemic and jump right into her new position, addressing the challenges posed by the pandemic.
“It’s definitely been a whirlwind, I’ve hardly had time to catch my breath,” she said. “In my first few weeks, I had to deal with the fact in-person commencement had been canceled and moved online, faculty needed the tools and resources to do their jobs remotely, and we were finalizing plans for the fall quarter. I was talking about space requirements on a campus where I hadn’t been inside many of the buildings.
“The past year has been difficult for everyone. We have all had to change the way we do things and change how we live and work,” she continued. “I’ve been impressed, however, by the incredible dedication of the faculty, staff, and students, and how all have worked together to get through this.”
Prior to becoming dean of Fresno’s College of Social Sciences, DenBeste was chair of the Department of History at Fresno and principal investigator on several national grants. A Pacific Northwest native, she earned a BA in Russian and East European Studies from the University of Washington in Seattle before completing an MA and PhD in history at Southern Illinois University.
She has published research articles on 19th-century Russian women doctors and is currently working on an exploration of the history of a Russian religious group, the Molokans, in California’s Central Valley.
An avid cyclist, DenBeste said she is eager to be able to finally be able to engage in person with the community and to continue to learn about CWU.
“Central has a strong commitment to its students and to student success not only during college but in the years after,” she said. “Throughout my career, I have focused on those same values. I want to work with my new colleagues to build on that foundation and engage in the innovative thinking and strategic development that will help define the future of this amazing institution.”
DenBeste said the university’s current plans for fall quarter 2021 include a return to in-person instruction, a near-typical number of students living in on-campus housing, and a resumption of traditional student activities. She cautioned that all plans remain subject to change, depending on the recommendations of state and county health officials.
“The good news is that we have been getting lots of inquiries and lots of applications for the fall,” she added. “I am encouraged that we’ll be able to have campus tours starting up again shortly and, for orientation, we will be able to have smaller groups on campus along with online options.”