Q&A: Deborah J. Tyksinski, PhD, Dean of Villanova University College of Professional Studies
Deborah Tyksinski is no stranger to work and education balance. Now the founding dean of Villanova University College of Professional Studies, Tyksinski has completed all of her degrees — a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a doctorate — while working in some capacity. This experience has allowed her to better serve the very community that benefits most from the College of Professional Studies—adult learners.
Today, we asked Tyksinski about her educational journey as well as Villanova’s innovative Bachelor’s of Interdisciplinary Studies that are designed for both working professionals and those revisiting higher education later in life.
Q: You’ve managed to complete all of your degrees while working. What has your experience been like as an adult learner, a population that thrives in the College of Professional Studies?
I took classes for over 20 years all together, and my experience has been that there was always a little more to my capacity than I anticipated. There were times when I would feel like I couldn’t do another thing and then I did. The next time I faced that, I had a greater capacity and my expectations for myself were much higher.
When I tell people that higher education is a journey, it’s not just about how fast [you can] get [your] degree. It’s really a time with ourselves to understand our own capacities—our capacities for learning, for juggling, and for facing fears and insecurities.
Q: Can you talk about how that journey took you from one field to the other and how you ended up becoming Dean of the College of Professional Studies at Villanova?
Early in my career I thought I was going to be a social worker because I wanted to work with people and I wanted to help them. I did that for a little while when I was in my mid 20s and I found that I wasn’t helping them—their problems were larger and more systemic. It shifted my focus to working in human resources.
After 10 years in that field, I found that while I was helping some people, there were a lot of people who made life choices that closed doors for them and they made those choices early on in their lives. So I became intrigued about why. Why do people close those doors? A lot of it was education-related. So I found myself recruited by a local community college starting a corporate training program. Those people I couldn’t help as a human resources professional, I could help if I was [assisting] them with training programs. I really found that not only could I help people, but I could do it through education and I loved it.
Three years ago, a fellowship I did lead me directly to Villanova’s door. I knew that I wanted to be the dean of a non-traditional college and a values-based, medium-sized educational institution. And there is none better than Villanova; it’s just absolutely the capstone experience of my career.
Q: Why are these professional studies programs so essential and valuable to those looking to aid their careers later on in life?
I think the core business to transform people who are young—18 years old—to that very critical developmental stage in their early 20s, is unique to people in that developmental stage. However, Villanova created the College of Professional Studies in recognition of the person who is 36 or 54. They’ve already had the life experience, they’re well beyond the developmental stages of a 22 year old, and yet they’re still trying to transform themselves through education. That process is different for somebody with a lot of life experience than it is for an 18 year old. So that’s why we have the degrees and the options that we have.
Q: What are the benefits of an interdisciplinary education?
Our bachelor’s degree is called the bachelor’s of interdisciplinary studies. The purpose of it is to recognize that while we are still grounded in the liberal arts, we recognize that some amount of that kind of learning has already taken place in a 36-year-old or a 54-year-old. We’re building on a different foundation than if they were 18 years old. We’re putting more emphasis on the courses that relate to their career, and to their leadership abilities.
Q: How are the BIS degrees created for adults?
We recognize the tremendous wealth that adults bring to the classroom and the degrees reflect that. We’re building from a base of a 36 year old instead of the base of an 18 year old, which means you’ve got a lot more room in your studies for your major courses.
This interview has been condensed and edited for length.This is a paid partnership between Villanova University College of Professional Studies and Philadelphia Magazine's City/Studio