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Jennifer Mueller’s passion for education, community led her to DePaul

Getting to know the new dean of the College of Education

Jennifer Mueller
New College of Education dean Jennifer Mueller (left) chats with her table at the recent DePaul Safety Summit alongside Stephanie Dance-Barnes, dean of the College of Science and Health. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)
From teaching elementary school to educating future teachers, Jennifer Mueller’s career has combined her passions for community and education. Mueller joined DePaul as the new dean of the College of Education August 1.

“When I was teaching undergraduates, I would always start every class by saying, ‘Don't forget that you are preparing for the most important profession in the world.’ Most people wouldn't be where they are without their teachers. That is a huge responsibility that we shoulder in education, and I love that work,” Mueller says.

In this Q&A, Mueller explains her focus as a dean, her insights on the current state of education and how she’s adjusting to life in Chicago.

What did you learn as dean of a previous institution that you brought to DePaul?
Something I worked a lot on previously is how a college of education can and should be serving the larger educational ecosystem. It’s important to be doing outreach, connecting with communities and learning how we can be responsive to the needs of the education workforce. Also, listening to what different communities need and want out of the education systems is an important role as we prepare professionals for the future. I’m a relationship-oriented person, and I think we have to do this work collectively.

As a dean, in some ways I’m the face of the college, but I also bring the faculty and staff together and help make connections. As we get to know more people, we will hear about issues where the College of Education can offer support. It’s all about relying on and supporting everybody’s expertise, supporting connection and making everyone aware of the many resources that are available to them.

Before getting into higher education, what was your in-classroom experience?
I have my elementary teaching license, so for about 10 years, I taught mostly first and second graders as a public school teacher in Wisconsin.

What do you think the biggest challenges are for education today?
The national teacher and counselor shortage is significant. There’s a decline in enrollment in professional preparation programs, and we simply are not able to prepare enough educators and counselors to fill all the needs.

The next level from that is ensuring that our educator and counselor workforces are reflective of the populations of youth and families that they will be working with. Recruitment and retention in the professions, as well as providing access for a diverse group of folks who understand the communities they’re working within, are incredibly important. Education as a whole serves as a driver for equity and social justice, and that is an important responsibility.

What are some of the current bright spots in education?
Education was a key force in helping us get through the pandemic. I think education was at the forefront of some of the societal changes that happened and needed to happen, and we will continue to serve in that role. Going into a classroom and seeing the learning that’s happening is always a bright spot for me.

I think DePaul is another bright spot. Education is a profession you choose because you have a heart for giving back and helping others. At DePaul, with the Vincentian mission, I think there’s an extra layer of that. Our staff and faculty are incredibly connected in the community. It’s remarkable how DePaul has such deep roots in Chicago, in Chicago Public Schools and the Archdiocese.

Now that you’ve moved to Chicago, what have you been doing in your spare time?
My family and I have been here for two months, and it’s been fantastic. We are new empty nesters so I've been rediscovering my hobbies after years of parenting. I’m a runner. I have run two marathons and have been a triathlete. I’m also a reader. I love nonfiction, fiction and a good, old-school mystery. Now, I'm trying to reconnect with some of the classics and a range of diverse authors.

My partner and I are city people, though we’ve only ever been to Chicago as tourists. Living here and getting to know the city has been amazing. We will start to get more involved in the community as we get truly settled in. Community connection is really gratifying. I don't know what that looks like yet here in Chicago, but it will be really fun to find out.

Learn more about Mueller’s background in the press release announcing her new role.

Jade Walker is a student assistant of media relations and communications in University Communications.