Q&A: ATEC Dean Anne Balsamo

Anne Balsamo previously served as the dean of the School of Media Studies at The New School in New York City. Photo courtesy of Anne Balsamo.


Q: What are your plans for the ATEC program as its first dean?

When an opportunity like this comes up, which is pretty rare, it’s a real testimony to the boldness of UTD to start a new school. So the first year has been doing this kind of inventory of what is the current status of ATEC. Because until you know what is going on, you can’t figure out what you might want to do differently or what you need to amplify, what you need to build on, what you need to revise.  We’ve added new courses. We had to get rid of redundant courses, so there was a lot of clean up that happened when ATEC and EMAC merged. So the plan now is for the undergraduate program, the new curriculum, to go into effect next fall, in addition to creating these new pathways. The freshman class that comes in next year in the fall will have a freshman ATEC year-long experience.

Q: With those changes, what does that mean for people that are currently in the program?

Students that are currently in ATEC can continue to pursue the degree program that they are already in.  You could also, though, make the decision or choose to go through the pathway curriculum. For the next couple years, ATEC will be offering multiple curriculum options because we are bound by law to honor the curriculum structure that was in place when a student entered a program. The hassle, in that case, is on the advising side, which is that our advisors, especially for the undergraduate students, have a lot of things to keep clear about what requirements each degree program implements and so on.

Q: Given that, will advisors go through training or be informed about what they can expect so they can best serve the students?

Absolutely! We’ve already started talking to the advisors. They’ve been in on the discussions about the curriculum revisions and we’re preparing all sorts of supporting materials, handouts, one-page descriptions, check sheets to help advisors have discussions with students about what are the benefits of the different curriculum options. This isn’t a straight forward curriculum revision. We’re not changing the names of things and keeping the major the same or keeping the degree the same. We’re changing the structure of the ATEC undergraduate degree. We’re going to have a couple of things that will help students make sense of these. We will have at least two town hall meetings with advisors and undergraduates, anybody who is interested and just wants information about ATEC. We will have specific advising sessions for ATEC students who are already registered in ATEC programs. Some of the animation students are creating an animation to explain the new ATEC undergraduate degree options.

Q: Do you think the employee hiring freeze will impact your plans at all?

The good thing is that the hiring freeze is tied to a very specific type of money. So it’s a hiring freeze for positions that are supported on the state of Texas money, but all units are also run on money that is provided through other avenues. For example, we get student allotment money that is based on the number of students that we have as majors and that is a different category of money. For example, what we can do with that money is we can hire additional advisors. We have two job openings available for two new academic advisors and those positions are not subject to the hiring freeze because the salaries for those positions are paid for by a different pot of money. There’re ways in which we are trying to address the very foundational needs of student advising, which is a really critically important need and we’re not going to run into problems with the hiring freeze.

Q: What brought you to apply to serve as the ATEC dean, specifically here at UTD?

I had been the dean of the School of Media Studies at the New School in New York City. I’ve been the dean there for four years and I was really interested in the opportunity that was presented by ATEC, moving from programs to a school, to not just be a dean of a school that had already been in existence, but to come in as a dean and academic leader for a school that was going to be merged over the next several years. So, the project of being a dean is very different in those two cases. When I went to the New School, the School of Media Studies had been around for a while. It had just celebrated a 40-year anniversary. It’s a different project to be the dean of an enterprise that has been going on for so long. It has a history. It has a legacy. It has a certain set of ways they do things, habits, traditions, and so on. The establishment of ATEC at UTD provided a very different kind of experience and a different entity, which was how do you build a school when you don’t have any blue prints. There is no operating manual. The exciting opportunity for me was to kind of take on a project that literally wasn’t already figured out. To get to be the leader of that kind of project that is so wildly collaborative and kind of unknown in terms of what it should be, that kind of opportunity doesn’t come along many times in one’s life.

Q: What do you enjoy most about working at UTD, specifically with the ATEC students you’ve come across?

ATEC students have such passion for things that I’m like, “Okay, that’s interesting.” Passions for rigging and specialty sound design courses and 3D fabrication. They have passions for topics and areas that, many times, I had never even thought about. Literally, they can’t get enough. I was talking to a student on reproductive rights in digital media and I’m like ‘Wow, that is a great problem to have;’ when you have students that are turned on and really interested and want more rather than having to figure out how do you inspire them to get passionate and to invest themselves in something.


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