No Learning Curve Needed

Dean Noelle Norton

New College of Arts and Sciences dean hits the ground running

Noelle Norton, PhD, who joined the University of San Diego faculty in 1994, was named dean of College of Arts and Sciences on July 1. Norton earned her PhD and master’s degree in political science at UC Santa Barbara and her bachelor’s from UCLA. She’s a valued student mentor, professor and former department chair for USD’s Political Science and International Relations Department. She was director of USD’s Honors Program, co-director for the Living Learning Communities (LLC) program and, most recently, served as the college’s associate dean for faculty. She recently took the opportunity to share her vision for the future.

Q: Define leadership and how you apply it in your work.

A: I believe leadership is about leading by example, being able to articulate your vision and the importance of collaboration with the idea of shared responsibility in mind. In leading by example, I want to work hard, show I’m committed to the college and the organization. I’m honest, open and direct, and I hope others will follow. I want to emphasize the importance of collaboration. Anything I do is not done alone; it’s done with the good work and energy of the whole organization.

Q: Had you ever thought about the dean’s position in your career plans?

A: No. I’ve always enjoyed what I do. When I was just teaching, I loved it. As director of the Honors Program, I loved it. When I left that and went back to being Political Science and International Relations Department chair, I loved it. I didn’t see these roles as stepping stones, but when I got to the dean’s office I realized I knew the college well enough and thought I could make a contribution to USD.

Q: How do your vast USD experiences prepare you for this role?

A: Two things: First, I can see the big picture because I have experience working across different divisions. I know the college intimately, but with the Honors Program I worked with both the business school and the engineering program. With the LLCs, I worked extremely closely with Student Affairs. Second, I know just about everybody on campus. USD feels like a small town to me. I grew up in a small town, San Luis Obispo, where it seemed I couldn’t go more than a few blocks without seeing someone I knew.

Q: How does a USD liberal arts education separate us from other institutions?

A: USD provides a phenomenal liberal arts and sciences education to our undergraduates. Because of our Catholic heritage and belief in the Catholic intellectual tradition, we’re well grounded to provide students a place to think, be curious, learn about the complex nature of the world and universe while, at the same time, consider questions of justice, sustainability, interconnection and value of human dignity. We’re not only going to train you to think critically, but we’re also going to have you do it, experience it.

Q: Will you be active with social media as dean?

A: I’m going to be a tweeting dean. Follow me at @noellenorton. We’ll be updating our website regularly with interesting stories at

Q: What plans do you have to engage with College of Arts and Sciences alumni?

A: I’m already planning trips to Utah, Washington, D.C., and Seattle this fall. I feel that, because I’ve been here so long, I know so many alumni and I know the university in the same way that the alumni do. They know I’m committed to this campus so I hope that’ll bring alumni back to campus. I’m ready, able and interested. I think alumni can expect to see me at every possible opportunity, because I’m willing to toot the college’s horn. I think we do great work, we should be recognized for it and I’d hope they’d want to stay connected to all the great things happening right now.