The only man for the job

Sitting in his office overlooking the South Park Blocks on the third floor of Cramer Hall, Shawn Smallman, Portland State’s vice provost for instruction and dean of undergraduate studies, is surprised at how much he likes his new job.

Sitting in his office overlooking the South Park Blocks on the third floor of Cramer Hall, Shawn Smallman, Portland State’s vice provost for instruction and dean of undergraduate studies, is surprised at how much he likes his new job.

Smallman, who left his long-time faculty position for his current job last year, now oversees a department that affects every student at the university, coordinating programs to help professors hone their teaching skills, and managing the PSU accreditation process. He is also on 13 Portland State academic and advisory committees.

Overall, Smallman said the transition between the classroom and administration has been difficult, but rewarding. Originally hired for his current position on an interim basis, Smallman’s appointment is now a permanent one.

Roy Koch, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said that while initially a search was to be conducted last year, after seeing Smallman in the position, he felt that would not be necessary.

“I couldn’t imagine finding anyone better for the position than Shawn,” Koch said. His leadership and ability to communicate well with his co-workers, Koch said, were invaluable assets.

In order to get approval to cancel the search, PSU had to sign an affirmative action waver, according to the Office of Academic Affairs.

Smallman’s years of experience as a professor within the University Studies department also helped him attain his current position.

The position was left vacant by Terrell Rhodes, at a time of financial trouble within the University Studies department, Smallman said. Rhodes took a position with the Association of American Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C. last year.

Smallman said he was convinced he should take the job because of his familiarity with the University Studies program.

“A change was in process, and since I knew the department very well, I really wanted to be a part of that change,” he said.

As soon as Smallman accepted the position, he was faced with financial challenges-the graduate mentor program was facing termination over a $320,000 budget deficit within the University Studies department. Fortunately, Smallman said, he and Sukhwant Jhaj, the director of university studies, were able to come up with an alternate solution, creating a permanent course fee to generate the needed funds.

“He’s not shy about taking on problems and supporting people through change,” Jhaj said about Smallman. Jhaj came to PSU around the time Smallman accepted the interim position, and found his new boss to be open-minded and highly collaborative, he said.

Smallman began his career at PSU in 1998, after his wife, anthropology professor Margaret Everett, took a position with the university. Originally hired for University Studies, Smallman taught international studies classes and focused on political and social issues in Latin American history.

Over time, Smallman’s responsibilities grew on campus, and by 2002 he became director of the international studies department as well as a tenured faculty member.

Smallman spoke fondly of the year he devoted solely to teaching after stepping down from the director position.

“I have always found working with students to be very satisfying,” Smallman said. In his new position, he said he found it difficult to be away from the classroom. He has daydreamed of classes he might teach in the future, creating detailed syllabi of possible structures, he said.

In 2006, Smallman was the recipient of the John Eliot Allen award, given to professors chosen by students for outstanding teaching.

Former students respect and admire Smallman’s passion in the classroom and during advising sessions.

Sascha Krader, a senior international studies major, said she found Smallman’s sincerity to be his most admirable quality.

“He is obviously a very intelligent person,” Krader said, “and he is able to make everyone in the class feel intelligent too.” His genuine fascination with students’ interests was very charming, said Krader, who previously worked for The Vanguard.

Smallman has written three books, the most recent of which is The Aids Pandemic in Latin America, and has traveled extensively throughout Latin America, researching in Cuba and Brazil.

Smallman’s first book, Fear and Memory in the Brazilian Army and Society, 1889-1954, reflects the time he spent digging into the country’s secret records and visiting defunct prisons where torture was the norm.

Smallman also co-wrote a textbook, The Cambridge Introduction to International Studies, which will be released in 2009.

Smallman, a Canadian citizen, also studies his home country’s politics and history. He has organized PSU’s annual Canada Days since 2002, a week-long event hosting visiting professors for lectures, a film series and art events.

With an increased budget for the next two years, Smallman is working on changes within the university studies department, including rotating instructors through the program from other departments as well as restructuring the upper-division cluster. He also hopes to offer more overseas capstones to encourage travel and expand offerings to high schools, he said.

For now, Smallman said he is enjoying working with people from all over campus in the committees he is part of.

“I didn’t realize how much I’d like this job,” Smallman said.