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UW Appoints Haub School Dean, Other Interim Leaders

June 15, 2017
head portraits of Melinda Harm Benson and David Chicoine

A faculty member in the University of New Mexico’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies has been named the dean of the University of Wyoming’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources.

Melinda Harm Benson, who holds a master’s degree from UW and a law degree from the University of Idaho, will begin her new post Aug. 1.

The UW Board of Trustees approved the appointment of Benson during a teleconference meeting last week. Also approved were the appointments of David Chicoine, former president of South Dakota State University, as interim dean of UW’s College of Business; and Nycole Courtney as interim associate vice president and dean of students in the Division of Student Affairs.

Benson currently is an associate professor at the University of New Mexico, where she has been on the faculty since 2008. She also worked at UW’s Haub School and Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources from 2003-07.

“We are delighted that Melinda has agreed to return to UW to lead this important academic unit,” UW Provost Kate Miller says. “Our state’s environment and natural resources are near and dear to the hearts of Wyomingites, and Melinda’s background shows that she is all about working to help stakeholders solve complex challenges in this area.”

Benson has had a lengthy career in natural resource management, including work as an attorney on a variety of issues in the West. Her experiences in environmental law and policy include a background in collaborative process.

“We need to work together to create innovative solutions to environmental challenges,” she says. “The Haub School is a nationally recognized leader in the field, and I am excited to be a part of it.”

At New Mexico, she has taught courses in natural resource management, public lands and water resources management, among others. Her research focus has been on environmental governance -- how society conceptualizes, employs and protects the natural world.

Benson received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Oregon in 1991 and a law degree from the University of Idaho in 1998, before earning a master’s degree in community counseling from UW in 2011 while also working at the Haub School.

“I’m thrilled to be coming back to Wyoming,” Benson says. “The Haub School is a premier environmental studies program doing important work for the state. I look forward to working with the staff and faculty to build on past successes and take the program to the next level.”

The Haub School, established at UW in 1994, applies interdisciplinary and collaborative problem-solving approaches to help stakeholders solve complex environment and natural resource challenges. In addition to offering a suite of undergraduate and graduate majors and minors, Haub School faculty members conduct research in a range of environmental fields including conservation economics, ecology and conflict resolution.

The Haub School is home to the Ruckelshaus Institute, which disseminates relevant policy and science information from the university to natural resource managers and decision makers, and offers facilitation services and training to build collaborative problem-solving capacity in Wyoming and the surrounding region.

Meanwhile, Chicoine, who served as South Dakota State’s president from 2007 to 2016, will lead the UW College of Business in the coming academic year as interim dean while a national search is mounted for a successor to Sanjay Putrevu, who has accepted the position of dean of the College of Business at Cleveland State University and will leave UW effective June 30. Chicoine -- who was South Dakota State’s president at the same time UW President Laurie Nichols served as that university’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs -- retired from the presidency in 2016.

Chicoine’s degrees are in agribusiness, economics and agricultural economics from South Dakota State (B.S. 1969), Western Illinois University (M.S. 1971, M.A. 1978) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Ph.D. 1979). He is currently a professor of economics at South Dakota State.

“It is wonderful to have a former university president and economics scholar agree to lead our College of Business during the search for a dean,” Miller says. “I’m sure he will provide the leadership stability the college needs during this period of transition.”

In the Division of Student Affairs, Courtney will serve as interim associate vice president and dean of students while a search is undertaken to find a successor to Sean Blackburn, who was appointed last month as UW’s vice president for student affairs. Courtney has been assistant dean of students since January 2016, coming to UW after serving as director of student services at Laramie County Community College’s Albany County campus.

Courtney holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations and communications (2003), a master’s degree in counselor education (2005) and a doctorate in higher education (2014), all from UW.

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