New Clinton School Dean to Build on Success of Academic Programs and Continued Partnerships

Dr. Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, the new dean of the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas, is no stranger to politics, political science or public service. As she approaches her first 100 days as head of the Little Rock campus, she sees a great foundation for success and hopes to build on it.

“To jump [Rutherford, the former dean]he left an incredibly strong foundation on which I can write the next chapter of the Clinton School,” DeFrancesco Soto said.

She spent most of her first three months in Little Rock listening to faculty, administrators, and students. From there, she is ready to institute progress.

“I’ve charted a few paths with our leadership team, with our faculty. For example, we will launch two new certificate programs. We have a fantastic master’s degree in public service – which, by the way, was the first in the country – but we also hear that students want to focus on data science, program evaluation and have that expertise graded in their transcripts, in their resumes, as well as communication and leadership for social change.

She’s bringing in two new faculty members to execute some of that change, she said, as well as adding an “admitted student” weekend in the fall to showcase Little Rock. and what the school has to offer.

“We have so much wealth here in Little Rock and once potential students come in and see what a great town Little Rock is and what a great institution the Clinton School is, we are able to attract them and get the best and the brightest here at the Clinton School,” said DeFrancesco Soto.

Dr. Brandon Merrell and Dr. Abigail Vaughn, both of the Georgia Institute of Technology, will join the Clinton School faculty on July 1. Merrell’s research examines how international processes affect global development, inequality, and political violence.
Vaughn’s research focuses on financial inclusion, global governance, and political stability in emerging market economies.

The Clinton School curriculum is based on field service. Students spend time in communities in Arkansas, the United States, and around the world working on public service projects that provide real-world experience and problem-solving. DeFrancesco Soto said she wanted to develop this aspect of college.

“It is truly the crown jewel of our program and what sets us apart from peer institutions that we have an in-depth service-learning component. Almost 50% of our credit hours are in the area where you not only think, but you do, and you put the two together,” she said.

“We want to be able to recruit more partners, both here locally, regionally, but also given this virtual world that we have seen open up because of the pandemic, it has also opened up opportunities to do internships with people across the country. Our international service project is one of the strengths of the school. We want to push this further,” she added. “We are a very dynamic program and we are proud of the faculty-student ratio. You don’t go to a school where the incoming class is 150 students or you get lost in the crowd. We are a small boutique school and I want to own it.

It doesn’t hurt that former President Bill Clinton is “head teacher.” Founded in January 2004, the Clinton School is part of the University of Arkansas system. Since its inception, the Clinton School has been a collaborative effort between its three accredited sponsor institutions – the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, the University of Arkansas Little Rock, and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences .

Beyond the oversight of the Civil Service College, one can find DeFrancesco Soto’s familiar face. She is a political analyst for NBC News and Telemundo.

Her background in civic engagement, women, immigration, Latinos, and political psychology has given her broad insight into the changing dynamics of modern political activity.

Asked about the state of American politics, which is deeply divided and shows little path to a near-term reversal, DeFrancesco Soto said what she has witnessed in her lifetime leads her to hope that the political system will heal.

“A lot of my optimism comes from lived experience. I grew up in rural Arizona, I’m a frontier kid, and I’ve seen people with very different worldviews — Republicans, Democrats, rural, urban – finding common ground So when I say people can find common ground, even though it’s gotten harder, I say that from experience and I say that because I’ve seen it “, she said.

“It starts with what people have in common rather than focusing on what we don’t have in common. And on top of that, he has tough conversations. And in the public lecture series, one of the things that the Clinton school did really well was bring people together from different sides of the aisle. It’s something I want to keep doing because if we don’t talk, even if we don’t get along all the time or we don’t particularly like each other, we have to focus on that big picture of the how we move forward as a society. How can we come together to solve the big problems that need to be solved? she added.

You can watch Dr. DeFrancesco Soto’s full interview in the video below.

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