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Rachel Beisser: Good morning. This is Rachel Beisser with Grace Baggett for VT Stories. We're in Wallace Hall Suite 260 right now with Rosemary Bleiszner. It is March 19th, a Monday at 10:42 AM. So to start off if you could just state your full name and where you were born and when.

Rosemary Blieszner: I'm Rosemary Blieszner. I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1948.

Rachel: Okay. So you did not graduate from Virginia Tech. Can you just give a little bit of your educational background?

Rosemary: I went to Mercyhurst College in Eerie, Pennsylvania. It's now Mercyhurst University, but it was a small college back then. I then went to Ohio State and earned a master's degree. Then I went back and taught at Mercyhurst 1:00for five years, and then I went to Penn State and earned a PhD and then came to Virginia Tech.

Rachel: What did you get your degrees in?

Rosemary: My undergraduate degree was home economics and my master's was family and child development, and my doctoral degree was in the same kind of department, but specializing in adult development and aging. The department at Penn State is called Human Development and Family Studies.

Rachel: Tell us a little bit about growing up, what your family was like, what it was like growing up in Pittsburgh, that sort of thing.

Rosemary: Well, there were five kids in the family, three sisters first and then two brothers. We lived in by today what would be a small house for five children and two parents. There was a bedroom for the girls and a bedroom for the boys 2:00and a bedroom for the parents and one bathroom. Nobody thought anything about it. That's the way everybody's house was and all of our friends were like that as well. We had a big backyard, but it was the City, so we didn't really roam around a lot because there was traffic on the street and buses and trucks and all of that, but we played in the backyard. One of the best memories I think is that my parents never really went out. We would go to church, spaghetti suppers and things like that or go to visit our grandparents, but they didn't really go out on dates. I think what they did was they saved up all their money and we would go to the beach in the summer.

We would go to Ocean City, New Jersey for two weeks and that was pretty 3:00remarkable when I think back on it. I mean this was like a working-class kind of place and nobody else of my friends went away on a vacation for two weeks. But they had done that when they were younger and they really liked it, so that was our tradition and we did that year after year after year. It was quite nice.

Rachel: Yeah, it sounds fun. Which of the five were you? What order?

Rosemary: The second.

Rachel: Second oldest, okay. So was education important in your family? Were your parents college graduates?

Rosemary: My father was not. He really had to work because of the Depression and everybody who could work had to work to help families keep going, so my grandfather had a job and he was able to keep that job. My father went to work. 4:00He had an older sister who also worked and then he had a younger sister who was about eight or ten years younger than he was, and so he actually put her through college. There was a value on college education, but he didn't have it and he worked his way through the world of employment on his own with really just high school. But she went to college and became a high school teacher, and my aunt, the older sister, I remember as a child she had never completed high school. When we would go over to my grandfather's house and my aunts were living there, she would go upstairs, and you could I guess earn a GED by watching classes on TV and she did that. And so she was working full-time, but then she earned her 5:00GED. I guess. I mean I was really little and didn't really know, but there was something about she was going to study, so I'm sure that was an important accomplishment, because she had started to work at a very young age, probably in her teens to help support the family.

My mother, her side of the family was a little bit different. She actually had college and earned a master's degree, and then she taught high school and taught college. But she quit working as soon as she got married because that was what you did back then, and then went on to have five children. But eventually later on she taught part-time this time in elementary school, but in between that I would say she was a world-class volunteer.

She was the den mother for my brothers. She was involved in Girl Scouts for my 6:00sisters and me. She was involved in church volunteer work and many kinds of community activities.

Rachel: What about your siblings, did they go to college?

Rosemary: Yes, they all went to college. My older sister has a master's degree and my youngest brother has a law degree, so he had undergraduate and then law school. And then me and my younger sister and the older of the two brothers we have PhDs. So education was really valued. They never talked about it like you must get good grades, you must go to college, you must go to graduate school, but it was all kind of expected. Somehow you knew it was expected that you would do well.

Rachel: What led you to human development? What made you interested in that?

Rosemary: Well, when I was very young that aunt who was a high school teacher, I 7:00was close to her and she basically said to me, "Well, you could be a teacher or a nurse and nursing is yucky so you will be a teacher." I mean that was like my career guidance. That was about it. And I thought that, I think I didn't know a lot about what I was doing, but so I'm making more sense of it retrospectively than I probably did at the time. But anyway, I was a home economics major as I said, and at that time we studied human development and family as well as nutrition and housing and finance and textiles and clothing. So the program I was in covered the whole domain of what was involved in home economics. And I 8:00was being prepared to be a high school teacher, but the thing is I never had home economics in school. So I don't know why this makes sense to anybody, but that was the story.

Now when students want to be teachers we start them really early in college with going to schools and getting hands-on kinds of experiences, and we talk a lot about internships and practicum and things like that, but when I was going to college it really wasn't like that. So the first time I was in a home economics classroom was in my senior year when I was supposed to be doing teaching. I had never really gone to observe or anything else that would give you some familiarity with it. So it was kind of a strange experience and I was away from the campus.

I was living in another small town, but the cooperating teacher at the high 9:00school was very kind and helpful and supportive, and so I taught a child development class and I really enjoyed that, and I think that's how I got interested in continuing to study in that area. And the college advisor who would come to observe while you were student teaching said to me one day, "Well you know Rosemary you could be a college teacher." Well like no, I didn't know that. Nobody ever said that to me before. But it kind of opened my mind to something new, because maybe I could be a successful high school teacher now, but back then I have to say I was clueless, like I just didn't know. And because I had never been in a foods lab or a clothing lab or any of those. I had done that as a student in college, but not in the high school setting. I just really 10:00didn't know what to do. I think that's why I was the most comfortable in that child development class because I had more of an ability to think about how I would teach that with high school students.

So, because of that mentor at my college who by the way, I'm still in touch with all these years later, I really feel like she sent me on the right path. And so then I started to look around for graduate school options and studied at Ohio State in this area of child dvelopment, but really covering over the whole life span. I had an assistantship in the preschool, so it would be like our lab school here in Wallace Hall and learned a lot in that process about working with young children, but took a lot of other courses. In the meantime, this same 11:00mentor was thinking about expanding the program. She was the department head at the college and she asked me to come back and teach there as a college faculty member, so it was almost like she had this plan in mind. And when I did that I had the opportunity to create new courses, and we also started a preschool program on that campus, and so for half of the day I would work in the preschool and be teaching the young children, but also supervising the college students who were learning to do that, and then the other half of the day I was teaching college classes in all the different areas from childhood to late life family relations, human sexuality.

And while I was there the other faculty at the college got a grant to start working with older adults, and so this was a time in our society when people 12:00were starting to pay attention to older adults as people who had interesting lives and interesting needs that society might help with. And they invited retirees to come to campus, so I had older adults sitting in my classes. And then also we would go out to community centers and teach mini courses to them or interact with them in different ways. And so I became really interested in the idea of working with older adults, and as all of this is going on I was thinking I wanted to return to graduate school and earn a PhD, because the college at that time didn't have any graduate students at all, only undergraduates, and I thought it would be interesting to work with both levels.

So that is what then motivated me to apply to Penn State and specifically in the area of working with adults and older people. I got a really really good 13:00education there with top scholars. It was a fairly emergent field at that time, and I had the opportunity to learn something from some really great researchers, and that's really what I focused on there. I had done teaching so I didn't teach at all as a doctoral student. I had taught before, so as a doctoral student I just worked on different research projects with faculty and really tried to hone those research skills. So then when I came here I could pull all of that together and most of my time here has been in the department that is now called Human Development and Human Science.

Rachel: What led you to Virginia Tech?

Rosemary: Well, the availability of academic positions at universities in your 14:00area ebbs and flows. And the year before I was finished my colleagues in the Adult Development and Aging Program who were graduating that year all went out and they had like multiple interviews, multiple job offers. They could choose where they wanted to go; it was really great for them. The very next year there were hardly any jobs. I did go on one interview, but it ended up they didn't hire anyone that year. Maybe they were having financial problems, I don't know, but a friend of mine knew someone from the Department of Penn State that I didn't know very well, but that person had come here a couple of years before. She told my friend there was an opening and my friend told me, and so when I came it was advertised as a temporary one-year position.


And so I thought well, there aren't very many other opportunities around, especially at a major research university, so maybe if I go there for just a year I will get my foot in the door and they will advertise the position and I could apply for it anyway. But as it happened, when I came for the interview, I think because I already had that teaching experience, they converted that job from a temporary one-year into a regular tenure track job. So between when I interviewed and when I started that change was made and I came in as a regular tenure track faculty. That's kind of how I got here. I wanted to focus on adult development and aging, and they were looking for someone with that particular focus.

Rachel: So you are now the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Rosemary: Yes.

Rachel: And you have been at Tech for 30-some years?

Rosemary: I think this is my 37th year here.


Rachel: What was the process like to get this position or what all have you done over 37 years?

Rosemary: Well, I've done a lot of things. I was always the kind of person who was involved in whatever is going on. In high school I was in student government and yearbook co-editor, and those kinds of activities you do in high school. In college I was also involved in the student government there and different community projects. In my master's program I was only there for a year so there wasn't so much time or that kind of activity that I was involved in. But at Penn State I was again, they would have graduate students serve on search committees when they were interviewing new potential faculty, so I did things like that and I had some other roles in the department. I guess I brought that interest in 17:00knowing what's going on, being involved when I came to Virginia Tech and there is a faculty senate, and there are a number of other parts of the governance system, different communities and commissions, and so I was involved in many of those. And it helped me to learn how the University works, and it helped me to get to know people all over campus. I went along as a faculty member, assistant professor, and I became tenured and promoted to associate professor and went along in that role a while, and then professor.

And I was also involved in my professional organizations, the Gerontological Society of America and American Psychological Association and some others, so getting to know people in my area of research and expertise, through those. And 18:00in 2009 there was a call for a half-time associate dean of the graduate school. And I thought that seemed like a good idea because I didn't know that I was ready to stop being a faculty member, but I was interested in seeing well what would administration be like. And I had heard Dean DePauw speak when she first came to be the dean of the graduate school and vice president for graduate education, and I was really impressed with her as a leader, her ideas, and I thought I can really learn a lot from her. And so I interviewed for that position and I was selected to do that. So I worked as a half-time associate 19:00dean up until I came to the dean's office here in the college about a year ago.

And I had also taken on another responsibility while I was at the graduate school and part of my work at the graduate school involved helping faculty to develop new courses, new degrees, new graduate certificates, being involved in the curriculum area. And there was a need for someone to be the University's liaison to the State Council for Higher Education for Virginia. And the State Council approves these new degrees, new graduate certificates, or mergers of two departments or starting a new college, things like that. And so I was the person helping the faculty members at Virginia Tech work on those proposals and then being 20:00the go-between with the SCHEV staff so that we could meet the requirements and make sure that we were all working together to accomplish those goals. And so I did that for about a year and a half. It was another kind of administrative experience working really with the whole University in a different way than in the graduate school way, and all of that changed when I was asked to become a dean.

Rachel: So what was your first memory of Virginia Tech?

Rosemary: Well, I think that would be coming for my job interview. And what happened was someone had decided to leave at the last minute, so the faculty member didn't give very much notice, and that's why at the last minute they were looking for a new faculty member, because there were courses that needed to be taught starting in the fall.


And so I applied and then received the invitation to come and I flew to Roanoke and the department head met me at the airport and we stopped for lunch along the way and then we came to campus, but it was summertime, and so there weren't very many students around. But I thought it was beautiful. I did meet some faculty. I met the dean, some graduate students, and it seemed like a very beautiful place and it seemed like a nice campus and a good University. And so that's really my first memory is feeling welcomed, and what I would now call that Hokie spirit, the Hokie way, I think it's been with us for a long time, and I think I felt that. I felt very comfortable.

Rachel: I want to go back to something you mentioned earlier. You said that you 22:00have a mentor that you are still in touch with from your undergraduate days. Something that VT Stories is interested in is mentorship at Virginia Tech. Have you had any experiences with that?

Rosemary: Well, yes. I've had of course undergraduate advisees, some of whom I still hear from, and then graduate student advisees. The graduate students it's fairly easy to stay in touch with them because we see each other at the conferences, and/or maybe they will say, "Would you read this article before I submit it for publication?" So a lot of times with graduate students you have the opportunity to maintain that really special working relationship, and they transition to become independent researchers and faculty, but we still are supportive of each other.

So that's one way. Another way is that right now for example I have two 23:00undergraduate students who are family friends, and so we get together every once in a while and have lunch or coffee or go to dinner, just hang out for a while. And I'm not teaching undergraduates right now, so it gives me an opportunity to stay in touch with what the students are thinking about on campus. One is in our college. One is in the College of Engineering, so I get different perspectives that way, and I really enjoy that too, and so that's more informal mentoring I guess. I had a former student just contacted me for advice. She's been working in the Peace Corps for a number of years and she's asking about advice choosing. She got accepted to a number of graduate programs in occupational therapy and how can she choose from all these. The #1 school, the #2 school, the #6 school, [chuckles] so that's interesting.

And then another type of mentoring I think is as a senior faculty member for 24:00newer faculty, so there are lots of ways to help new faculty learn what do you need to do to be successful. We have formal systems set-up like faculty get peer reviews from other faculty for their teaching. So maybe you've been in class sometime, another person observed. We give feedback on research. And I've always worked on research teams, so have always been involved with other faculty that way and we can help each other learn from each other and that's a type of mentoring too.

Rachel: Did you have anyone like that when you were a new faculty member?

Rosemary: Yes, I did. Actually there were several people. One was a former student from my department, I hadn't known her well in graduate school, but we became very good friends here and worked together.


Another faculty member in the department helped me to get started, the new director of the Center for Gerontology when he came in did. A lot of this had to do with research opportunities, helping with writing a grant application, publications, but also getting involved in some of those University activities that I became involved in. And I've had other mentors here at Virginia Tech who were administrators in different positions that I could talk to. And so I've always felt very supported and encouraged to do new things, try new things.

Rachel: I want to talk about your research a little bit. So you focus a lot on aging.

Rosemary: Yes.

Rachel: I also noticed that spirituality is something that you research on, so can you talk about that a little bit?

Rosemary: Well, I started off, of course the field of aging is so broad and I 26:00always say to the students tell me what your major is, I'll tell you how it's connected to aging because everything is. But I chose to focus on social relationships, so I studied friendship for my dissertation research and that's been a theme in my research, and also different dimensions of family relationships. The notion of spirituality and resiliency came to me through one of my graduate students who was interested in pursuing that topic, and so she did her dissertation research interviewing older women about how their sense of spirituality contributed to their ability to be resilient in like life from their perspective.

It was a very well-done study. She interviewed women here as well as in Germany 27:00because she had a German background, and because we want to promote cross-cultural perspectives, as well as inter-disciplinary. So because she could speak German and had an interest in that culture she thought it would be good to do comparisons. And the people that we interviewed, although they were all around the same age, the people in Germany had experienced World War II directly because it was fought there. Whereas the people here only experienced it kind of indirectly.

So, her writing was very good, and I said, "This should be a book. You should write a book." She said, "Well I never wrote a book but you have, so will you help me?" So she graduated, and we shifted maybe from mentor mentee to 28:00colleagues and wrote that book from her work. We met the women here and we also went to Germany to meet the women there so that I could write authentically about them, so that I had known them a little bit anyway. And then we were giving talks to different community groups and she got a job teaching at Luther Seminary in St. Paul Minnesota and I was going back and forth to St. Paul because we were working on the book. So we were giving talks in different places and people said, "Well what about the men?" She had studied women intentionally, because most of the research before that had been done on men, and particularly in the area of religion and aging. And she thought well are they the same or not? We should study that. So we decided to repeat the whole study with men, and 29:00in that case the interviews were done not in Virginia but in St. Paul because that's where she was living at the time, and then we went back to Germany and interviewed men in Germany as well.

And then we prepared a second book that pulled the women's data and the men's data together, and we asked the same questions, but the answers are of course different, because the women and the men in Germany didn't have the same kinds of experiences in their life, particularly around the Second World War which was so influential on this particular cohort of people.

Rachel: So what did you find through the research? What stood out to you?

Rosemary: Well, I have to explain that this study was not a study of a random sample of people, it was a study of lifelong Lutherans, who were people that 30:00would have grown up learning about a particular religious tradition and worship practices and that sort of thing. And that again was very intentional, but having to do with the critique of the past research where people would talk about religion and spirituality, but not pay attention to denominations as if it doesn't matter if you are Christian or Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim or anything else. And of course it matters because if you believe that has an influence on your life then of course the tradition you come from and how it's played out in peoples' lives is going to have an influence.

So her argument was that we should study one group at a time, so they were people who were probably already deeply spiritual. They were because they were invited to come into the study from that perspective. The reason for doing that 31:00part of it was so that we could find out kind of like what's the most spiritual person like and how does that connect with their resiliency? And then down the road you would do other research with different groups of people so that you would have a comparison basis, right. Before we started this there was no way to compare because people would lump everybody together, deeply religious, not religious very much and everybody in between all in the same study and you can't really find out at the level of detail we wanted to study.

So one of the things we learned was that for these people they said whatever they had experienced in life, and we didn't set out to find people with difficulties, but everybody has difficulties, right, so no matter what it was they said things like, "I couldn't have done it without the Lord. My faith carried me through. My church community," sometimes they talked about the 32:00personal level, sometimes they talked about the church community level and how meaningful that was to them all through life, and including now in old age, and they valued that part of their life very highly. People always ask well what's the difference between the men and women? There were many similarities of course, but one of the differences because of the women in this cohort were typically not employed outside of the home and the men always were, the men talked a lot more about that employment, that work, their vocation. But they often talked about vocation not just in a narrower sense of what career did I pursue, but in the broader sense of how they brought their spiritual and religious beliefs into their work and they conducted themselves with integrity, and they tried to be helpful to other people and to execute all of the Christian 33:00values that they had learned in their life growing up in their world of work.

And the women talked a lot more about their relationships, their family, community volunteer work, things like that. So we have to understand this in the historic context in which these people were living their adult lives, but we can also see the value of how regardless of whether it was men or women and what they were doing, and some of the women did have jobs too, that the value to them was constant throughout the situations, the joys and the sorrows. Some of the people in Germany have really quite tragic experiences around the War and so we wrote a lot about that and how they didn't end up bitter and depressed and 34:00alienated from God or from other people as a result of the suffering that they had experienced very directly in the War, loss of one woman's baby died. They were fleeing the fighting and she couldn't care for this newborn baby very well, and so it was this horrible tragic thing that happened. But she a joy. The image of her that we had was this was this butterfly in her community bringing joy to everyone despite that and a lot of other things that happened to her along the way. And so to us there were lessons there for anyone. If these people can have those kinds of experiences and yet still find strength to carry on then other 35:00people might find inspiration there too.

Rachel: So as for teaching at Virginia Tech I read that you also do some things for the Sociology Department and Women and Gender Studies. So how does your work in human development overlap and kind of play off of your work in sociology?

Rosemary: Well, that was part of the idea that in I would say in the whole department of Human Development and Family Science were very concerned about taking a look at peoples' places in society and asking questions about who gets to do what, who has opportunities, who doesn't have opportunities. And that perspective is a feminist analysis. It's an analysis that's oriented towards social justice, and that perspective can be applied in the field of gerontology as well because we can ask questions about why are opportunities different for 36:00men and for women in old age.

Why are some people wealthier and some people are poorer. Why do some people have access to healthcare and some people don't and how can we look at social policies, how can we look at the community services and practices and many other parts of society and see about improving the quality of life for people, whether you are working in aging like I am or whether we're working with children or teenagers or any group? And that is part of the concern of the people who are working in the women and gender studies area as well, is trying to promote equity and social justice and opportunities for everyone to be able to fulfill themselves.

Rachel: Right. So you were a professor then?


Rosemary: Well, I was an adjunct, so I was [going] in that Sociology Department as a faculty member, but a lot of the departments have affiliated faculty, and so I was affiliated with the department because of the work that I did also aligns with some work the faculty and sociology do because they have gerontology experts as well. And then in women and gender studies people, anyone on campus really can become affiliated with that and there are men and women and graduate students and undergraduate students and lots of people who have these same kinds of concerns, although they would focus it someplace else, not necessarily on older adults' lives.

Rachel: So speaking of women and gender studies, March is Women's Month and so VT Stories is trying to interview more women this month, so I have some questions regarding that. What advice for women in academia who want to pursue 38:00research, what advice for them do you have?

Rosemary: Okay, are we talking about like undergraduate students or graduate students or faculty?

Rachel: I would say any.

Rosemary: I think to me it's partly developing the research skills whatever they may be. Some people like to do studies using interview techniques like we're doing here. Some people like to do studies that involve analyzing large data sets that have been collected by governments around the world or other groups. Some people love laboratory work. Some people want to do the kind of scholarship that involves creativity like creative writing or cinema or working in the theater.

So whatever it is, I think it's really important to be interested in and love 39:00what you're doing so that you're motivated to learn how to do it well and then you want to continue carrying that work along. As I said I've always collaborated with others and I felt like that old saying two heads are better than one, and especially if you bring people together from different perspectives you might have the same focus, but they are bringing new ideas that you hadn't considered and you are bringing new ideas that they hadn't considered. And I think in the end you can develop a better project, whatever it might be. So that idea of preparation, doing what you love and then being persistent. I think that there are always going to be setbacks and roadblocks, but I had a friend who would use this expression, so a lot of faculty submit 40:00applications for funding to different external foundations or government agencies, and you don't always get it funded right away, and so she would always say 'that was draft one' and then maybe she would have to do draft 2 or even 3 or 4. But she just had this hopeful attitude of sticking with it, and I think you can't be successful if you give up too soon, so that's very important too. And getting the mentoring that we talked about before, always being open to asking for help and receiving advice I think is good.

Rachel: So post undergraduate, when you were going after your grad degree and then PhD, was women in the world of academia kind of a new thing at that point, or were you ever the first female professor or anything?


Rosemary: The college I went to was an all-women's college when I was there and immediately after I graduated it became a co-educational institution, so that was a trend for a lot of small colleges at that time. Some of them closed, but I think this particular one was very forward-looking and inviting men in and adding interesting new majors and things like that has helped it to thrive until now it's a University with graduate programs and so on. So, I was surrounded by women doing my undergraduate, and my work at Ohio State I think because of that feel there were some men, many many women in the field of it was still called Home Economics at that time, and in the family and child development area.

Went back to the college. Of course there were men on the faculty, but there 42:00were plenty of women. An increasing number of male students, but it was really kind of the reverse situation there because before that the female students had run the student government and the newspaper and everything else, and now they had to kind of divide that up across the men and negotiate that in maybe the reverse direction. When I came to Virginia Tech there were not as many women faculty as there are now, and I do remember going into a room where I was the only woman in the room. But I will tell you that still happens today, where I can be in a group and be the only woman in the room. So, I think we at Virginia Tech have made a lot of progress in the student body and the staff and on the faculty with increasing the gender diversity and the racial ethnic diversity. But we also have probably a long way to go to have parity.


Rachel: Any advice for women wanting to go into academia?

Rosemary: Well, find a good mentor. Be well connected. I think being involved in the field, and even undergraduates can go to conferences, can do undergraduate research, choose to present here on campus or go with faculty to another location for a meeting, and certainly graduate students are encouraged to do that. That gives you a sense of community and a sense of how this all works. How does the academic world work compared to the corporate sector, the government sector, whatever, non-profit? There are lots of similarities, but also some differences, and so learning how the system works and what are the expectations. I have a doctoral student right now who is going to graduate in May and he had a 44:00research assistantship with a new faculty member. And my doctoral student told me one day that he was telling the new faculty member now here's what they are going to expect for tenure, you know. I thought it was really kind of fun that the graduate student was helping the new assistant professor about the importance of his research and the student was helping him with it.

Rachel: So I'm going to kind of focus in on Virginia Tech now. What are some of your favorite memories and experiences at Virginia Tech?

Rosemary: Oh, so many. I have always felt, so I'm in a different position now, but when I was a faculty member, a regular faculty member in my department and I always felt like it was home.

It was comfortable. I had friends there. I loved what I was doing, the students, 45:00the staff. And so I have many good memories of all kinds of things, you know, activities we would do as students, really special classes where you know you're in a class and everything just clicks and it's such a great group. I have memories of classes like that. Memories of fun things that we would do like holiday parties or baby showers for some faculty member and that kind of thing like that.

And then I think University-wide there have been many very interesting activities and events and opportunities. Mostly it all revolves around people, what people are doing. When I was promoted to professor the dean knocked on my 46:00door to tell me and in the hallway behind her were my faculty colleagues from my department. I still remember that. It was great.

Rachel: What about any more difficult times at Virginia Tech?

Rosemary: Well, I suppose the most difficult time was when April 16th happened it's still hard for me. Like this question catches you off guard. You don't know you're going to be thinking about that. Sometimes when I go somewhere else and people say Virginia Tech, they see it on your nametag or something, and they say, "Oh, were you there?" Oh I didn't know I was going to have to talk about that today, so I think that's still very very difficult to talk about.

One of the positive things about that is the focus on the community coming together, and I had friends from graduate school who are at other universities who 47:00really commented on that, that the students who were interviewed and all that they were hearing about how the community campus and the larger town community was pulling together was very impressive to them, and I know it was to others in the outside world. And so being able to showcase like yeah, there's this Hokie spirit and it's for real, and that's not the only time I've seen it for sure. But I think that was important to let the world know, and when Nikki Giovanni said, "We will prevail." I mean that was an anthem, right, that everyone was like yeah, we sure will because of this sense of community.

Rachel: And that sense of community is something that VT Stories is really interested in. There's such a high affinity rate from alumni for Virginia Tech toward the school. So you talked a little bit about Hokie spirit and some 48:00previous questions. Why do you think that alumni, faculty, professors, everyone is so attached to Virginia Tech? Do you have any ideas?

Rosemary: Well let me speak from my new role. One of the things that deans do is go out and meet with alumni and meet with donors or potential donors. I think it's a very interesting thing to do, because all I see and all I hear is people who are appreciative and truly grateful for the experiences that they had at Virginia Tech. And they talk about that in a lot of different ways, but I met a person recently who went to law school after Virginia Tech and now is very successful in his profession. And he said to me, "You know, that logic course 49:00that I took as an undergraduate, that logic course is what got me through law school." So whatever happened in that course at that time and the learning to think critically and to do the analysis and comparing and contrasting and all the things that you have to do in logic and learning how to build arguments, right, and defend your position really meant something to that alum.

Other people talk about other courses or faculty members who influenced them, or how much in retrospect they can see how much they learned in whatever their major was or in other courses that they took, or other experiences that they had on campus leadership experiences or internships or whatever it was. People 50:00pretty uniformly talk about that the combination I think of the value of the courses, and even if they are working in a completely different field now, which I'm a developmentalist, I wouldn't be surprised if that happens, they still find connections to whatever roots there were at Virginia Tech in their classes and the faculty and the other things that they did.

So I think that it must be some combination of the size, maybe the geographic location. People complain about it, but then on the other end maybe it helps you to kind of focus around the other people who are here, and the residential community that even the first couple of years, the first year at least that students experience.

I think this institution has been very focused on teaching and the quality of 51:00teaching and maybe some other large research universities don't focus so much on that, but it sure makes a difference to the students. And often they remember faculty and the classes. I think that's some of what I hear them talking about when I speak with them.

Rachel: So you've been at Tech for a while. What changes have you witnessed at the University? Both at University level and College of Liberal Arts that you think were significant or that you agree or disagree with?

Rosemary: I think on a general level I've seen a number of different presidents, right, and they each have had a different focus. But I feel that regardless of the focus they were bringing us forward in one way or another, and that's a good thing. I don't feel like there was ever an administration that was problematic 52:00or taking us in the wrong direction in ways that would be difficult. You hear about some of this in the news these days, so that's one observation.

I think of course the campus has changed a lot, and when we came here we didn't have the bypass and all the overpasses out towards Christiansburg and things like that. The way that this college is now is different from when I came, and that's not uncommon that universities change their structures from time to time. So I was in a college that was called Human Resources that had the human development. It was called Family and Child Development back then. It had apparel, housing, and resource management, also a different name, hospitality 53:00and tourism, human nutrition foods and exercise. Those were the departments that were in that college, and then there was a separate College of Education. But the College of Education was merged into the other one, so now it's called Human Resources and Education. And there was a separate College of Arts and Sciences. So the decision was made to divide the College of Arts and Sciences, but you can't just keep creating new colleges. It's expensive and the State doesn't authorize it. You can't just do that, so they had to come up with another plan and it was to take and create the College of Science, and then the Arts was divided so that performing Arts stayed in this college and visual arts went to architecture.


There were other changes. Hospitality and tourism went to business. Interior design went to architecture and these various changes. This college, liberal arts and human sciences was then composed of the human development and the apparel, housing, and resource management, but also other social science areas came in from the old college -- sociology, community, political science, science and technology in society. But then we have the humanities and then we have the performing arts. So the way that we are structured now has those areas plus the ROTC leadership, military history courses and programs.

And we talk about how this all fits together through some common themes that we 55:00have, which is a concern about the individual and how people function in society, and that covers lots of departments, right. Another one is a concern about policy, but how policy affects people. Policy doesn't happen in a vacuum and its implications don't happen in a vacuum, but rather in a context, so we can talk about policy from lots of departments. We can talk about inclusion and diversity. We can talk about how we want to think about the environment and how the environment is ex and addressed from multiple perspectives.

So we have these kinds of themes that aren't for a single department, they are for the collaboration across departments. And then we want to take that perspective outward to the rest of the University and to show them how thinking 56:00from the lenses that we have might enhance their perspective. So if you're in engineering then maybe you want to consider ethics or maybe you want to consider human relationships. You know the artificial intelligence is all about the intersection with human relationships, right. And so we see one of our ways of contributing to the larger University is by bringing these perspectives as they intersect with other fields that we have on campus.

Rachel: So playing into that I think they are called destination areas, Dr. Sands' -- what would you call them?

Rosemary: Destination areas that he created.

Rachel: As a dean are you playing a role in that and can you kind of expand upon them?

Rosemary: Well in fact I was sharing the president's initiatives which we called Beyond Boundaries for the first two years, so I know this very well. And his 57:00view was very long range. We were talking about Virginia Tech in 2047 because that's the 175th Anniversary of the University, so what do we want to be like? We should think about that and then take the steps to get there, right? So what will the students of the future be like? What will they be studying and how, where? How are we going to fund it? All these questions that the different committees worked on.

And the research and curriculum part of it is what we call destination areas, which means making Virginia Tech a destination, so students and faculty want to come here and be a part of this community. And different themes were identified based on existing faculty strengths that we wanted to grow, and those groups have all been working on curriculum. I think they all have a minor underway, and 58:00then working on thinking about what kind of people do we need to hire to build on this area. And our college has faculty involved in all of them, and we are also in the process of hiring some specific people, faculty who will be targeted to one of those areas or another. So we have faculty and one of them is called Creativity Innovation, and we have faculty in the School of Performing Arts involved in that, but also STS communication. There are lots of other faculty on campus who are interested in elements of creativity innovation. That would be just one example.

Rachel: What is the goal for the destination areas? Are they like majors?

Rosemary: Mostly I would say they are minors. I don't know if they would ever become majors. That might be true in the future, but the whole point of it is to 59:00have a topic. So one of them is called Integrated Security. So we can think about security from the point of view of computer science and engineering as cyber security right, but then we have to think about political security, so we need political science faculty in there. But we could also think about food security, so that now we need an agriculture and we need the nutrition folks, and we could think about financial security. We need economists and people in business and consumer affairs. And so the idea is that these are very broad things, but we want to include multi-disciplinary perspectives, because it's by doing that that we can probably get better answers to the problems we face in society, especially in forward-thinking. And the president's goal is to make Virginia Tech a top research university, so we need to think that way if we want to get there.


Rachel: Along those lines what changes or development do you want to see at the University within the next few years or within long-term future too?

Rosemary: I think that we have a goal of continuing to build these areas. And it doesn't mean that all the regular majors would go away or anything like that, but I think that if students want to get involved in one of these thematic areas the minors will help them because they will have a introductory course, kind of a gateway course that will give an overview of that topic in different dimensions. And then they will have some kind of a capstone course that they will work on an integrative project probably with students from other majors, and in between take other courses that will complement whatever their major is. So the idea of this is you will still have a major and it doesn't matter, 61:00anything can be relevant to it, and then that major would be complimented by this minor. And maybe going on to graduate school or maybe going to work, and I think the students who graduate with this perspective will be really well prepared for some creative new jobs that are arising out there that aren't the traditional jobs. Because a part of it is about getting students to think very broadly and be able to work with people from different fields, even though you have the depth of your own major as a basis for your work.

So, the opportunities I think will continue to grow, and there might be other minors that will be developed in the future. I think this is setting the University on a track that can give us a reputation I think in some of these 62:00areas if we can be working on some solutions to particular issues. Another one is data and decisions, and we talk a lot about people needing to use data to make better informed decisions, but the amount of data available is huge, and so how do we manage to do all of that. So these are very broad, but I think that they will continue to develop.

I think one of the goals for the University is to increase the diversity in the student body and on the faculty and staff and well, so that we have a community that looks like the rest of the world that people go to work in, because they will be working in a very diverse world. We want to encourage students to have lots of experiential learning opportunities, whether it would be study abroad or research, undergraduate research or internships, co-oping, things like that.


Leadership, because those will give them skills that they can use in the world of work later on. And the president has said he wants every student to have that kind of experience. A lot of students do. They do study broadly. They do undergraduate research, those things, internships, but we just want to make sure everybody has a chance.

Rachel: Have you participated in like interdisciplinary research or working with other colleges, especially as the dean of the Liberal Arts College? What do you see as far as departments working each other, colleges working with each other and how that's changing with the whole new vision with the destination areas and that sort of thing?

Rosemary: I think so, because when the departments within colleges each year they are asked to identify their hire rating plan, you know. Who has left, who has retired, where do we need, what new direction do we want to go in. And so 64:00they are thinking about that within the context of the destination areas, which doesn't mean everybody has to be doing that, and it's certainly not the only kind of work that we're doing here, but there is then collaboration in that hiring across the colleges. Many many faculty are already working on projects across colleges because it's what they are interested in doing. It gives often more creative work in the long-run, and so we have lots of examples of that's already underway, and we will just continue to develop that. The deans are very collaborative in talking about issues and sharing ideas with each other, always being informed about what's going on in the different colleges.

So I think that in higher education, not just at Virginia Tech, but everywhere, 65:00I think that people realize that big problems aren't going to be solved by people staying in distinct groups. We need that cross fertilization, and you can see it if you just look at anything. Like all the Silicon Valley kinds of developments they weren't done by people in one discipline, or the space program.

Rachel: Right. Have you been able to participate in interdisciplinary research or work over your years at Virginia Tech?

Rosemary: Yes. The thing about the field of gerontology is that it is inherently interdisciplinary to begin with. Because even though I might be doing relationship-based research, I can't really study and understand everything that's going on in families if I don't understand about biological changes and aging, cognitive and brain changes with aging, economic factors that affect 66:00older adults, work-related issues.

You know all of these things have to come together, and I can't say I'm an expert in all of them, but I can understand, and I can work with other people and I can attend sessions at conferences that inform me about these different areas. So I think in my whole life I've had a more expansive view because of that, that acknowledgement that there is so many influences on a person's development over the course of their life. There's not just one thing that determines their outcomes.

Rachel: Right. So this is back Virginia Tech. If someone simply says the words Virginia Tech what comes to mind?

Rosemary: I would say Ut Prosim. That spirit of community and service and giving back, and when we talked before about the alumni, and they talk about that too, 67:00you know they are involved because they want to give back. They appreciate the opportunities and they want to make sure students have those opportunities in the future. I think there have been people who have said they joined the administration or the faculty here because of Ut Prosim, because they came here and detected that people really believe it and take it seriously. It's not just a sign on the wall someplace, that it kind of permeates the DNA of Virginia Tech. And so I think that's what comes to mind, and every university has a motto, but I don't know if everybody at other universities even knows what it is. But I think everybody here knows what ours is.

Rachel: Any memories or experiences with Ut Prosim moments that really stand out to you whether students or faculty?


Rosemary: Well we talked about April 16th before, and I think that was a certainly big big example, and that extended, I mean it was sort of like a whole town. I don't know, maybe the whole State, or even farther than that became part of the community. There were so many things, like my brother went to Notre Dame and he was in the band and he was really hardcore, and he said well you know, in the whole history of Notre Dame they have never played the alma mater at another institution. And they learned and played the Virginia Tech alma mater after that. I mean that was really quite impressive to me, and things like that happened you know all over the place.

But I think more aside from that, when I see things like students going on alternate spring break, and that's been going on here for many years, and 69:00students are saying well okay, maybe instead of going to the beach or something I'm going to go to a community and help other people. I've had students in class who say they have had life-changing experiences doing that. There was a student who went to South America and came back, and it's not that she changed her major or anything like that, but it was like her sense of herself and her purpose in life was deeply affected by that. And I think that being open to having those kinds of experiences is something that is important for peoples' development and learning. And so I would call that kind of an Ut Prosim moment. She had the motivation to go, but then the benefit far outweighed. I mean I'm sure she helped build things or whatever she did there, but what she gained from that she 70:00would probably say far outweighed what she think she gave them.

And then I think there are just lots of little everyday things, like yesterday somebody held the door for me. And they didn't have to you know. It wasn't like it was going to really slam in my face. I could have caught it you know, but just these little things that happen a lot around here. And people don't like honk their horns, right. There's so many little everyday things that I kind of view as part of that Ut Prosim Hokie spirit kind of way of being.

Rachel: What does Virginia Tech mean to you?

Rosemary: It means my life. I have given my life to this institution and I have done that gladly. I have worked here for a long time. I have worked hard, long hours and long days and all of that, because I believe in it you know, as an 71:00institution, and so I think it's a place that I can say that I really have believed in and I'm proud of being a part of it, and I'm proud of what the institution and the students and the faculty are doing. Because it seems like we are always on this really positive trajectory. That is not to say bad things haven't happened. Of course bad things happened. Students mess up and faculty mess up and administrators do, but we seem to be able to bounce back and be better for it, and that gets back to my research because that's what resilience means. It means sort of going through something difficult and coming out better than you were when you started before that experience. We saw that with the people in our research and you can see it all around here.

Rachel: So a final question. Is there anything else you would like people to 72:00know about you or that I haven't you that you would like to say?

Rosemary: Oh no, I think you have been very thorough.

Rachel: Okay. Then I think we're done.

Rosemary: Okay, it's a pleasure.

Rachel: Yeah, thank you. Oh, if you could just restate your name.

Rosemary: Rosemary Bleiszner.

Rachel: Thank you.