Today, with almost thirty years of service under her belt, Diane Ryan has a wide variety of experiences in places such as Germany, Iraq and West Point. Her first non-military related venture is at Tufts, where she was recently appointed as the Tisch College associate dean for programs and administration. Always looking for ways to go outside her boundaries and still make a positive impact, Ryan shared her experiences and what brought her to Tufts.
The Tufts Daily (TD): Can you tell me about your previous work with the army? How did you end up there and what work did you do?
Diane Ryan (DR): I initially started in ROTC as a means to pay college tuition, and I got a scholarship that paid all of my tuition and some of my expenses. I really had no intention of making the military my career, I thought I would do it for the scholarship money, probably go in the reserves, work full time and do the army on the side.
Right before my senior year, it occurred to me that it would be a good opportunity to get some good skills. My initial commitment was to serve for five years and that was the time when there were a lot of assignments in Europe. Living in Europe for three to five years seemed like a pretty exciting thing to do as a young person. I realized that was a lifestyle that really appealed to me so I made a deal with myself. I said I’ll just keep doing this until it’s not fun anymore or I run out of cool opportunities and that pretty much took me up until two months ago.
So I got all of my education paid for from the army. I went and did a master’s degree at about the 10-year point that was fully funded, and I did a Ph.D. a few years later, and then I’ve spent the last almost decade at West Point [as] faculty there. The first part of my army time was mostly in information technology, so I did voice and data communications. I liked solving problems, but I didn’t get excited about technology. But I liked the people aspect of the problem solving, so that sort of led me back to psychology with a pit stop in international relations because that’s what my master’s is in.
TD: How did your experiences with the army end up affecting your future choices, and how did you end up in Baghdad?
DR: I was actually in the first Gulf War as a lieutenant and I was an executive officer of a company, so I was responsible for 120 people, dealing with day-to-day operations. And then I was a major in Iraq. I was an IT person, but I also got involved with some civil society projects primarily because of my international relations background and my interests in people and being a problem solver, so I got involved with some NGOs there.
For me, deployment was a place to really focus on the things that we spent all our time training for. It’s not pleasant to be there because you’re away from your family, you miss out on some creature comforts, there’s a lot of uncertainty and unpredictability, but you create amazing bonds with the people you’re with, and if you had to be there it was important to feel like you were doing something worthwhile. I feel that we were very hopeful at that point that we would have a positive impact on the Iraqi people that we came into contact with and hopefully they would learn things from us and we would learn things from them.
TD: Why did you finally end up leaving, and how did you end up at Tisch College?
DR: At my rank, you are only allowed to stay at active service for 30 years, so I knew I was rapidly approaching the 30-year mark. There were lots of people who suggested that I stay either at West Point or go to another military academy or military-themed school like the Citadel [Military College], but I felt like that would not be a stretch for me. I would just be doing the things that I was already very comfortable doing.
I wanted to get out of my comfort zone while at the same time maintaining some connection to the things that I really loved about my job at West Point. I mostly enjoyed the co-curricular and extracurricular things that I helped to co-create because those were the things that people really seemed to get the biggest impact out of. If you were to ask West Point cadets which experiences had the biggest impact on their development as a leader, they might talk about a specific course but more often than not they’ll say, “I had this experience on a summer internship, or I had this particular leadership experience in this club.” It was really satisfying for me to create those kinds of things and this job presented a similar opportunity but in a slightly different area. I felt like I had the skills I accumulated in the army but it’s also a new context, a new community, new people and a research university as opposed to a small liberal arts college. So a lot of opportunities for me to grow as a person and also contribute to the Tufts community as well as hopefully create some programs here at Tisch that serve as a model for the nation.
TD: I know you mentioned it a little bit before, but what exactly does your job entail?
DR: I’m the associate dean for programs and administration so all of the student programs are in my portfolio, like [Tufts 1 + 4 Bridge Year], Tisch Scholars and Tisch Summer Fellows — helping with the planning, organizing and resourcing as well as the day-to-day operations of the college as a whole. So really, solving problems, asking people what they need and providing them with the support. The dean sets the strategic vision, and I’m the person that helps to go out and implement it.
TD: What are you the most excited about?
DR: I’m really excited about how Tisch is creating these experiences that have so much potential to help solve problems and really contribute to people’s Tufts experience, and I’m also very excited about the opportunities that we have beyond the walls of Tufts to really take a leadership role in this idea of civic engagement. Also, we’ve got a world-class research team and really committed faculty members. I’m looking forward to the day when I say I work at Tisch College and everybody just automatically knows what it is and what we do.
TD: Finally, what has been your favorite part so far about working here at Tisch?
A: Having a window has been great! But honestly, the people have been amazingly welcome, supportive and really kind.