When Cyndee Gruden ’91, ’93G walked onto the UNH campus as a first-generation college student in the fall of 1987, she had a limited understanding of her own potential.
In becoming dean of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS) three decades later, Gruden — the first woman to hold the position — credits UNH as the spark to realizing her capacity to excel. Now, she is on a mission to ensure current and future Wildcats can realize their full potential, as well.
“My time at UNH changed my trajectory,” says Gruden, a Goffstown, New Hampshire, native and civil engineer professor who recently served as vice provost for academic administration and faculty affairs at the University of Toledo. “My vision for CEPS students is that they achieve success that goes beyond the attainment of learning outcomes and career opportunities to include social and economic well-being, self-satisfaction and a passion for lifelong learning.”
Though Gruden expects CEPS to undertake a range of efforts and initiatives in her time as dean, she singles out one as paramount: addressing the concerns that have surfaced from recent calls for social justice.
“I am committed to providing pathways for success to students of all backgrounds,” says Gruden. “To do so, we need to create an inclusive and collaborative climate.”
Gruden wants to accelerate the college’s efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion both as a moral imperative and because diverse perspectives drive the productivity, creativity and innovation needed to meet emerging challenges. The recent establishment of the CEPS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee is a start in that process.
“My vision for CEPS students is that they achieve success that goes beyond the attainment of learning outcomes and career opportunities to include social and economic well-being, self-satisfaction and a passion for lifelong learning.”
“We must educate ourselves on how our institution can make all people feel welcomed, supported and respected so that we may attract, retain and develop diverse talent at UNH,” she says.
UNH’s commitment to student success and its designation as a top-tier research institution drew Gruden back to her roots. She plans to build on the existing academic and research excellence through the collective development of a new strategic plan that is likely to focus on interdisciplinary collaboration, strengthening talent pipelines and deepening community engagement.
The effort will focus on leveraging current strengths while identifying innovative ways to attract and engage new people, ideas and funding streams. Gruden also plans to work with existing connections including the college’s advisory board, alumni and employers to identify new venues for research, on-demand academic programming and professional development opportunities.
Gruden acknowledges that new opportunities will also require change — including the development of academic programs in emerging formats and modalities — to thrive in a competitive market. The pandemic has accelerated this shift, and Gruden expects some of the changes are here to stay. She wants to ensure that CEPS remains ahead of the curve.
“CEPS is in an ideal situation to undertake this challenge because of the wide array of disciplines in the college,” says Gruden. “The possibilities are endless and exciting.”
Gruden’s experience in Toledo’s College of Graduate Studies will help in the pursuit of those goals. There, she led the launch of progressive marketing, recruitment, and enrollment strategies — an effort that involved managing faculty and staff representing more than 4,200 students and 750 faculty members in 170-plus graduate programs. She was recognized multiple times for her excellence in teaching, research, outreach and engagement, reflecting both her administrative work and her academic focus on applied environmental biology and stormwater asset monitoring.
In returning to UNH, Gruden notes the many upgrades to academic buildings and laboratories but says the beauty of the campus and UNH’s most important asset — its dedicated faculty — remain unchanged.
“The faculty and staff are still clearly committed to student achievement and well-being, both academic and personal,” says Gruden. “I am eager to work with them to provide our students with a world-class educational experience that will transform their lives and the communities around them.”
Gruden succeeds Chuck Zercher, who served as dean since 2018.