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Q&A: College of Arts and Sciences Dean Camellia Moses Okpodu

January 24, 2022
woman sitting at a metal table with plants all around her
Camellia Okpodu in the Williams Conservatory.

This past June, an accomplished scientist and administrator stepped into her new role as dean of the University of Wyoming College of Arts and Sciences. Camellia Moses Okpodu previously served as Xavier University of Louisiana’s College of Arts and Sciences dean. Before that, she spent 15 years at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va. She earned her Ph.D. in plant physiology and biochemistry from North Carolina State University, and her research has focused on environmental topics, including climate change, sea-level rise, coastal resiliency, and agriculture.


What drew you to this deanship?

I have a National Science Foundation grant with an emphasis on diversifying the geosciences, so UW’s emphasis in environmental research as well as the geosciences appealed to me. When I read the job description, it sounded like exactly my skill set. I had opportunities at other places, but this was my top choice. I liked the land-grant mission and the rural setting.


What are your goals as dean?

It’s a very capable college with outstanding faculty, but maybe we haven’t really packaged it in a way that other people see all the good going on here.

I’m one of those people who believe we should give the best to our constituents and stakeholders. We need to be a center of excellence for faculty, staff and students.

My No. 1 goal is to produce high-quality graduates to be able to compete in the global market but also to create an environment where they’ll be more entrepreneurial and want to stay in the state.

For my faculty and staff, my focus is going to be well-being. My philosophy is that if you don’t have a healthy faculty, you can’t have a healthy university. We need to think about what’s going on with people as they move through tenure and how to make sure people feel safe and appreciated. We need to realize we’re responsible for each other. The writer Maya Angelou has a saying: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


What do you love about Wyoming?

I like the openness of the people and the camaraderie among the faculty.

Coming here to the West, I’m learning things I didn’t know about. I’m really interested in dry farming and how climate change will influence farming techniques.

I learned about Empire, Wyo. (a town founded in 1908 by African American settlers who used dryland farming techniques). I grew up on Empire Road, so the name is really apropos. I’m trying to learn things in an ethno-botany way, like did they ever culture okra? I do some of my research on okra and am still trying to figure out how to do that here.

I also have a creative side. I have done a lot of community theater, I love to write (prose and poetry), and I recently joined the UW’s Civic Chorus.

This summer I went to the State Fair in Douglas and had so much fun. I also went to the Snowy Mountains, and I kept thinking, why don’t more people know about this? It’s beautiful.

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