New grad school dean preparing for first fall at WSU

Coleen Pugh, a polymer scientist, is the new dean of the Wichita State Graduate School.

Pugh has two bachelor’s degrees in science from the University of California Davis, but she originally chose the university for its fashion design program.

“I said I would never take chemistry in college,” Pugh said.

But after switching to a major in textile science, she learned she would be required to take it. She ended up liking chemistry so much that she picked up a second major in it.

Pugh later earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in macromolecular science from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

“At that time, we were required to finish a master’s first and then our PhD,” Pugh said, “which was very nice because [the master’s degree] required a thesis and also defending the thesis, so it was kind of nice practice for the PhD.”

Before coming to Wichita State, Pugh worked for 20 years as a professor of polymer science at the University of Akron, Ohio. She also served on the faculty senate there as a member of the university’s graduate council.

“Akron is kind of the hub of my field,” she said.

Pugh took over the dean position from Kerry Wilks, who had been serving in an interim capacity since January — when former Graduate School Dean Dennis Livesay was named dean of the College of Engineering.

A university release says Pugh will create research with a new polymer synthesis lab, “which will be an important addition to the university’s ongoing efforts in materials and advanced manufacturing research.”

Pugh said her experience in the polymer-science field has helped prepare her for her new position at WSU.

“I think [polymer science] is really a good example of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research, and that’s a big thrust of the university right now,” she said. “Especially defining new majors in new areas.”

A former member of an ad-hoc strategic planning committee at Akron University, Pugh said she was impressed by WSU’s strategic plan.

“I liked the fact that it was research-focused, that it had a very clearly defined objective and that it involved every part of the university community,” she said.

This semester, Pugh says she will work to become familiar with the university, its programs and community members.

“I need to learn what all the other colleges would like to see from the graduate school,” she said. “How we can help them achieve their mission.”  

Despite being from California, Pugh first visited Wichita years before coming to WSU when her cousin got married in Winfield. Now, she says the city and university have everything she’s looking for.

Pugh will live in Wichita with her father and 18-year-old daughter, who will start college at WSU before transferring to Pugh’s alma mater, Case Western Reserve. She also has three dogs and two cats.

“I’m looking forward to both the challenges and the opportunities [at WSU],” Pugh said. “It’s just such a positive environment.”