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Getting to know Westminster’s new provost

Dr. Debbie Tahmassebi stands on the grounds of Westminster College’s campus where she started working July 1, 2019. Tahmassebi was hired as the new provost for the college where she will oversee and be responsible for academic programs and priorities. (Photo courtesy Westminster College)

After a long and specific hiring process, Westminster has hired Dr. Debbie Tahmassebi to serve as provost for the college. Tahmassebi started her new position as provost on July 1 of 2019. 

Tahmassebi says many people aren’t aware of what her position entails. She said the provost is the chief academic officer on campus, meaning she is responsible for academic programs and priorities. 

“This includes working closely with the deans, other administrators, faculty and staff involved in academic programming and student support,” she said. 

The provost is also a member of the President’s Cabinet. 

“Dr. Tahmassebi arose as a top-tier candidate […] due to her experience as an effective change manager at her previous institution,” said Heather Batchelor, a member of the search committee. “Her record as a strong collaborator who supports innovative ideas and brings stakeholders together to affect change also stood out.”

Tahmassebi began working in academia as a professor. She said she did not intend to become a provost, but throughout her life she has tried to do her best at each job and follow her intrigue.

“There was no life plan,” she said. “Just a series of small decisions. I did a series of things over time that landed me here.”

Following her intrigue is also what led Tahmassebi to a degree in organic chemistry, she said. Fortunately, she said she had great help throughout this process. 

“I wouldn’t describe my experience as especially supportive, but I had some amazing mentors and individuals who were and are incredible supporters,” she said. “My husband being number one.”

It was one of those mentors, a woman named Barbara Sawrey, that helped Tahmassebi find her passion for education. At the time, Tahmassebi was an undergraduate student studying at the University of California, San Diego. 

“She inspired me to think about an academic career,” said Tahmassebi. 

She said the experience propelled her career, beginning as an adjunct chemistry professor at the University of California, San Diego and University of San Diego.

“It was a great experience for me to get a sense of what it’s like at a large state and small private institution,”  said Tahmassebi. “This helped me determine that I wanted to seek a full-time position as an undergraduate-focused institution with small classes.” 

Before starting at Westminster, Tahmassebi worked at Santa Clara University. She was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and said she hopes her success in that position will help her achieve her goals as provost. 

“These [goals] include increased paid research and internship opportunities for students, and greater engagement with alumni and the local community,” Tahmassebi said.

She said she will also work to strengthen the college’s current academic programs, launch new programs and improve communication and collaboration across campus. 

Tahmassebi said she was attracted to Westminster because of its prioritization of diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as its commitment to the liberal arts.

“I am drawn to the challenging and creative opportunities that this environment brings, and the talented folks on campus I will have the pleasure of working with,” Tahmassebi said.  

Although she said she misses the ocean — specifically jumping waves and body surfing — and her hometown of San Diego, Tahmassebi said she is also excited to be working in Salt Lake City. 

“This is a time of change and growth in Salt Lake City, which impacts the campus,” she said. “The campus and Salt Lake City and surrounding areas are beautiful, and that certainly is important to me as well. There are a lot of campuses out there that are just concrete blocks that have no personality to them.”

When she isn’t managing Westminster’s academia, Dr. Tahmassebi said she loves spending time with her husband and daughters. 

Tahmassebi said she is excited to meet more students and feel the campus come back to life. 

In an announcement sent to faculty this January, President Dobkin welcomed Tahmassebi. 

“Dr. Tahmassebi has a deep commitment to collaborative research, student success, and integrated approaches to the liberal arts,” Dobkin said in the announcement. “Please join me in thanking our search committee for their exceptional work and in welcoming Dr. Tahmassebi to Westminster College.”

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Gwenna Salazar
Gwenna Salazar is a junior honors student studying communication. She loves to try new things, which has led her to discovering passions in writing, yoga, climbing and consuming media. She hopes to forge a fulfilling career in public relations and media analysis, leaving time on the side for adventures.

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