Graduate College Dean Search: Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Steve Varga emphasizes building campuswide partnerships

Varga discussed how he wants to apply an interdisciplinary approach to all aspects of the college and increase diversity, equity, and inclusion training.


Jerod Ringwald

Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Graduate Student Development Steven Varga presents during a college dean forum hosted by the University of Iowa over Zoom on May 6, 2021.

Claire Benson, News Reporter

Steve Varga, the associate dean of academic affairs and graduate student development at the University of Iowa, said if selected, he would amplify voices of both students and staff through diversity, equity, and inclusion training.

Varga was the third and final candidate who wrapped up the Graduate College dean search. College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Associate Dean Christine Getz and College of Education Dean Amanda Thein held forums on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

Varga has been with the university since 2003, when he began serving as an assistant professor. In 2009, Varga was promoted to associate professor, and became a professor in 2015 in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. 

From 2013 to 2018, Varga served as the director of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Immunology. 

The forum was held via Zoom on Thursday with more than 100 members in attendance.

Varga focused his presentation on prioritizing graduate students’ voices and needs and increasing efforts to help students achieve their goals and be adequately prepared for their future careers.

He said as the university’s Graduate College plays a critical role on campus, he would pursue forging strong relationships and partnerships with key individuals and organizations across campus. 

If selected as dean, he would advance diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives within the college, as it will improve creativity, innovation, and productivity in the classroom and workplace, he said. 

Varga said in addition to increasing DEI efforts, he wants to look into other ways to increase recruitment and retention among a diverse range of students, and improve community building. 

“One aspect of graduate student training is that we know that students of underrepresented backgrounds tend to leave graduate school at higher numbers later as the years go on,” Varga said. “We lose more of our underrepresented students than students from majority backgrounds. That’s a heavy cost and burden for students to leave a graduate program that late in their training.”

To best support students and meet their needs, Varga said it would be beneficial for more graduate students to participate in groups such as Graduate and Professional Student Government and other groups that advocate for graduate students’ rights and voices. 

Varga added that he is confident newly selected UI President Barbara Wilson will be supportive of the Graduate College and its future initiatives to better uplift and prioritize students. 

“We don’t provide enough resources to fully support all of those students across campus,” Varga said. “So, I would advocate strongly with the central administration, the new president, who I believe is a staunch supporter…I hope that she will be a strong ally, along with Provost [Kevin] Kregel, in ensuring that our graduate programs are a strength at this university.”

While wanting to support students and help them best prepare for their time after completing graduate school, Varga said he wants to recognize the work of staff within the college, as well.

“I think it’s really important to treat all of the staff members as professionals, and continue to develop their professional development, because that makes them better at providing outstanding education and effort on behalf of the graduate students across campus,” Varga said. “It’s important when people do outstanding work that they get recognized for that work. The dean shouldn’t take the credit for all of the work that’s done across the Graduate College.”

He said he wants to recruit leaders from the ground up, not the top down, promoting the award-winning staff from within. 

“We should really feed into the current expertise we have and help bolster and support that expertise with new hires that can help round out a collaborative interdisciplinary team,” Varga said.

The UI’s Office of Strategic Communication stated the appointment of the next associate provost and dean is anticipated to be announced by July 1.