Fenton named dean of WCU’s Graduate School

Mimi Fenton, who has been serving as interim dean of Western Carolina University’s Graduate School and Research since July 2012, has been selected to become the academic unit’s permanent leader.

A professor of English, Fenton has been leading WCU’s graduate education programs and research activities since the retirement of the previous dean, Scott Higgins, who stepped down last June after 31 years of service to the university.

Mark Lord, acting provost, announced the appointment of Fenton on Wednesday, May 29. The appointment is pending approval by the WCU Board of Trustees and the University of North Carolina Board of Governors later this summer.

Mimi Fenton

Mimi Fenton

“Mimi has done a wonderful job in her year as interim dean, and has implemented significant initiatives to improve the efficiency of both the graduate studies side of the operation and the research administration side,” Lord said. “She worked closely with program directors on strategies to increase enrollment, initiated a summer research assistantship program and restructured the Office of Research Administration. She brings first-hand experience to this position from the faculty and administrative perspectives, and the numerous teaching awards she has received throughout her career attest to her ability to connect with students.”

Fenton, a faculty member at WCU since 1992, previously served as associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences from 1997 until 1999 and as director of graduate studies in English from 1995 to 1997.

An acclaimed scholar of English poet John Milton, whose works include “Paradise Lost,” Fenton won WCU’s University Scholar Award for 2005-06, the UNC Board of Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2004, the WCU Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award for 2002-03, and the WCU College of Arts and Sciences Teaching Award for 2002-03 and 1995-96.

“I feel privileged and honored to serve as part of the leadership team at Western Carolina University,” Fenton said. “It is an exciting and fortuitous time for graduate education and research. I am working toward increased enrollment in our excellent graduate programs, greater visibility of graduate education throughout the region, development of new sources of funding for graduate students, and intensified research support for students, staff and faculty. Many great opportunities lie ahead, and I am inspired by the progress we have been making and the possibilities for the future.”

Fenton earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the University of Wyoming, in 1980 and 1982 respectively, before earning her doctorate in English from the University of Kentucky in 1990.

She has taught at the University of Wyoming, University of New Orleans, Francis Marion University, University of Kentucky and Purdue University North Central. She is a member of the Council of Graduate Schools, the N.C. Council of Graduate Schools and the International Society for Research Administrators, and she was elected president of the Milton Society of America in 2011.

The Graduate School dean reports directly to the provost and is responsible for the development, promotion, coordination and evaluation of graduate education, and oversees and promotes sponsored research and compliance at WCU.

The university’s graduate education program currently includes more than 450 faculty members from more than 50 degree programs. Nearly 1,700 students are enrolled in graduate education at Western Carolina through on-site classes in Cullowhee, in Asheville through WCU Programs at Biltmore Park, and around the world through online courses.

For more information about graduate programs at Western Carolina University, call 828-227-7398 or email grad@wcu.edu.