The following article appears on DallasInnovates.com:
Dr. Ali Shaqlaih arrived at the University of North Texas at Dallas at the start of the last decade as a faculty member in the Department of Mathematics and Information Sciences. He since has served as a coordinator, an assistant dean, an associate dean and, most recently, as interim dean of the newly created Graduate School. An educator, a mathematician and a researcher by training, Dr. Shaqlaih received the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences Service Award and the Faculty Alliance Excellence in Teaching Award at UNT Dallas.
He starts this new decade not only as one of the most senior faculty members at UNT Dallas, but now as the inaugural Dean of the Graduate School. The opening of the Graduate School was the next logical progression for a university that has emerged as an affordable option for southern Dallas students in this historically under-resourced region, and the next logical progression for a professor who has committed his career to serving those students.
Dr. Shaqlaih is tasked with establishing policies and procedures to help sustain quality graduate programs and growing the Graduate School’s enrollment well beyond the current 500, while expanding on its seven master’s programs and one graduate certificate. To do so will take innovative thinking, but that’s right up Dr. Shaqlaih’s alley.
We recently sat down with Dr. Shaqlaih to discuss UNT Dallas’ transformation and his role in the university’s continued success.
You have witnessed the transformation of UNT Dallas from a UNT Denton satellite in a southern Dallas strip mall to its own growing campus on 264 acres and with an enrollment of 4,000. Why did you choose to stay?
When I was first looking at jobs—I had several opportunities—UNT Dallas was the best fit to me because it was a new university, which means new opportunities, and I can play more than the traditional role…; I can be part of transforming students’ lives… that’s the main reason I came to UNT Dallas. And it was the case; I witnessed several changes at different levels and I held several positions… I feel like I can talk as a faculty member, I can talk as a coordinator, a dean, etc. I have enjoyed working at UNTD in all the positions I held; my goal has always been the students’ success in its broad meaning…One of the best I like is the student centric environment at the campus.
Why do you believe you are the right person to build UNT Dallas’ Graduate School from scratch?
I hope I am! I am good at teamwork and I think that is what the Graduate School Dean needs the most. As Graduate Dean, I have to collaborate with all schools so teamwork is a key to the Graduate School success; I can’t achieve much without working with all my colleagues on campus. In the Graduate School, we advocate for our graduate students and hence I need to work with all deans, coordinators, faculty and staff to achieve that goal. Another reason is my K20 experience especially the different positions I held at UNTD. I have gradually held several positions at UNTD and that enables me to effectively communicate with my colleagues across campus. At UNTD, we are all working for the same goal, student success. One of the things I like most about being the Graduate Dean, is that collaboration is a must, it is not a choice!
How do you plan to expand programs offered and grow enrollment in the Graduate School?
I’m communicating with the academic deans, coordinators and faculty to help initiate new interdisciplinary programs that fit the community needs and differentiate us from the surrounding schools; that’s how we can attract more students. We need more interdisciplinary programs across different departments…, we can’t continue to propose traditional programs that many other schools around us have. We need to think collectively and out of the box.
Enrollment in UNT Dallas graduate programs increased 11% from Fall 2018 to Fall 2019. Do you attribute that to the creation of the Graduate School?
Definitely the communication between the graduate school team and the deans and graduate coordinators has played a big role in that growth. Establishing the Graduate School benefitted students, faculty and the university as a whole. UNT Dallas graduate students now feel that there is a team that they can reach out to any time and for any reason. Our mission is to serve our graduate students and get them ready and prepared to be leaders, researchers or professionals. Many of our undergraduate students like to continue their graduate study here because they like the culture; we are also honest with our prospective students and we put their interest and success first. If you pick a random graduate class at UNTD, you will see a very diverse student body from all perspectives and that enriches the student experience. We are working with all the units on campus to continue our growth and to better help our students. We’re not where I want us to be yet, but I think we are going in the right direction.
How will you ultimately judge your success and that of the Graduate School?
By several factors: first, the policies and procedures that we build to allow healthy growth at all levels; that is growth in graduate programs and student size. Second, the experience that our students get at our campus. To me, growing in numbers is important but producing quality students who are ready to serve the community is even more important. I want our students to see if they graduate from UNTD, they would be able to easily find a job in the workforce and progress well in their roles. Graduate school is about creating knowledge, scholars and leaders and that’s what makes our reputation.