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Holiday Greetings From Dean Helen Easterling Williams

Dean Helen Easterling Williams HeadshotGreetings Colleagues and Friends,

What an honor and privilege it is to serve as Dean and Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology at Pepperdine University. As we come to the end of the 2021 calendar year, and I review the totality of our school, I cannot help but notice the excellence with which we work. 

Throughout the student lifecycle, every division continues to excel in their specific function. Despite the unprecedented external challenges of the pandemic and the underfunding we face, our leadership in both the enrollment/marketing and the online departments have continued to recruit and admit thousands of high-quality applicants from all over the world (29 countries). Student Services has registered 3640 students for the fall term. Since fall 2016, our on-ground enrollment has grown 22.7%, a statistic that every dean in higher education would covet to give. Our online enrollment now includes an unprecedented 1,703 students. In total, our enrollment is now 129% more than it was in fall 2016. While our enrollment has grown exponentially, our staff has only grown incrementally. This represents an ongoing challenge for me. I continue to be grateful for the dedication of these two departments that market, recruit, enroll, register, and serve our students.

The excellence does not stop there. Equally impressive are the Education Division and the Psychology Division. The leadership of the associate deans and the work of their team members is extraordinary. It is our academic programming and its execution that sets GSEP apart from other institutions of higher education. Our faculty and staff go beyond the work of teaching the courses and providing support to the academic programs. They actually care for the students, advance research and service opportunities, diligently work to eliminate systemic barriers, and empower students to maximize opportunities. Though the pandemic required us all to shift unexpectedly, our team rose to the challenge and performed impressively. 

Our associate deans continued to think futuristically and effectively deployed our dedicated and compassionate program directors, assistant program directors, administrative assistants, and other team members in advancing our programming and servicing. Winston Churchill is reported to have said, “Never waste a good crisis.” Unlike other institutions, the research and scholarship work of our academic divisions has not waned. In fact, we found ways to maximize the crisis with the invention of Optimal Engagement Immersion Pedagogy (OEIP), led by Dr. Jennifer Miyake-Trapp and Dr. Farzin Madjidi. This invention enables our students to be fully engaged in the synchronous online classroom viewing, hearing, and communicating with class participants and the professor in real-time. Using multiple computers, cameras, screens, and microphones, this technology-rich environment goes far beyond traditional classroom technology. 

Likewise, the Psychology Division, led by our most capable Dr. Robert deMayo, capitalized on the present crisis by adopting TeleHealth as a means of providing continuous counseling services to an exponentially increased number of persons in our external community. He determined a way to enable student clinicians to record their counseling notes despite the global shutdown. Numerous faculty members expanded their private counseling caseload and served as local and national media resources to our information-hungry American society. Most notably, Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis has been elected to serve nationally as the President-Elect of the American Psychological Association, after which she will serve as the organization’s president. 

GSEP successfully moved 109 courses and 297 sections from a face-to-face format to an online format in a matter of days. This would not have been possible without the support of our 2U partners and our now expanded instructional design team, all led and/or supported by our small but mighty Instructional Technology department headed by Daniel “D” Lee and Dr. Lonnie McNamee.

Our Foster Grandparents Program (FGP) has not wasted this crisis either. During the height of the global shutdown, Dr. Shanetta Weatherspoon and her team organized food and health aid packages for their foster grandparents who themselves needed support. They provided laptops and computer training for foster grandparents to assist their program-assigned children in completing class assignments while the children were forced to engage in virtual learning. Consequently, our Foster Grandparents Program was awarded nearly $1 million in funding from our long-time federal sponsor AmeriCorps.

I continue to be impressed with the exceptional commitment to research, teaching, clinical work, and service that I see from our faculty, staff, and students. Our $40 million in external funding enables us to generate cutting-edge knowledge, develop the next generation of leaders in education and human services, and contribute to the well-being of our communities. As we reached 20,000 GSEP alumni this year, we celebrate their noteworthy impact which enriches many lives in deeply meaningful ways.

As we look back over the past year, our 50th anniversary, we at Pepperdine GSEP have continued to rise together as a community to thrive and succeed. Since 1971, we have been carrying out our goal of being an innovative learning community where individuals of diverse cultures and perspectives work collaboratively to foster academic excellence, social purpose, meaningful service, and personal fulfillment. We continue to remain steadfast in our university mission of purpose, service, and leadership. Let us continue to give thanks as we look forward to the next 50 years, leading the path as pioneers in technology, leadership, psychology, globalization, friend-raising, and diversity.

In honor of GSEP, I have donated two goats and four chickens for needy families through World Vision and made a $75 contribution for US Coronavirus family emergency kits. I warmly wish you a Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Buon Natale, Joyous Noel, Happy Kwanzaa, and a prosperous New Year.

To view GSEP's holiday video, please click here.


Helen Easterling Williams, EdD

Dean and Professor of Education

Graduate School of Education & Psychology

Pepperdine University

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10–11, NKJV)