Kevin Ross
Kevin Ross

Kevin Ross

The life of Kevin Ross reads like a novel, where the protagonist has a bit of wanderlust early on before returning to his roots.

The Dean of the Leatherby Libraries at Chapman University grew up in the 1960s and 1970s in Davenport, Iowa, where he enjoyed outdoor activities like sports, hunting and fishing.  He also loved reading. So much so that though his bedtime was 8:30, he would wait until the house was asleep to turn his lights on and read until two am.

“By my early teens, I was reading books like Roots, The Godfather, The Doors of Perception, and my all-time favorites, John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained,” says Ross.

In 1980 at the age of 17 after he finished tenth grade, Ross decided that rather than stay in high school, he would join the Army.

“My dad had to sign for me since I wasn’t 18 yet,” says Ross, who went on to become a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division as an infantryman.

When he got out of the military after three years of service, Ross worked at a variety of jobs, including as a grocery store stocker and an armed security guard for the National Guard Armory in Phoenix.  He eventually returned to Iowa, where he began working for UPS and got promoted to management after a year.

Return to Education

During his time at UPS, Ross, whose parents were both educators, decided it was time to go back to school.  He proceeded to more than make up for leaving high school early by earning an associate degree, a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from St. Ambrose University and a Master of Arts in Library and Information Science (M.L.I.S.) from the University of Iowa.  Several years later when he moved to California, he earned a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership from Chapman University and a Doctor of Philosophy in Education (PhD) with an Emphasis in Cultural and Curricular Studies, also from Chapman.  He has also obtained various certifications, including from the Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

In 1994, once Ross had some higher education under his belt, he took a position as an instructor at Hamilton Technical College in Davenport, Iowa.  There he taught English grammar, arithmetic and college survival courses for students.  He conducted lectures, group discussions and interactive activities for a diverse student population, clocking more than 5,500 contact hours with adult learners.

Ross followed this by becoming Hamilton College’s librarian in 1996—a position he held for two years.  Then he moved on to work as Public Services Librarian at Maycrest International University, also in Davenport.  It was during this time in 1997 that he met his future wife, Tam.  They were married in August 2000 in a traditional Vietnamese wedding in California.

Chapman Bound

“When I got to California, I sent out 40 resumes and interviewed at several places, including Chapman,” says Ross, who was hired as the university’s Distance Librarian.  The position, which he held for a year, involved travel.  When Tam was expecting their first child, the couple decided it would be good for him to stick close to home, so he became Coordinator of Instruction and Library Web Manager for the Thurmond Clarke Memorial Library and Leatherby Libraries.  He added to his responsibilities in 2003 as an adjunct faculty member, teaching Academic Reading and Study Strategies within the School of Education.

Over the years, Ross has risen through the ranks at the Leatherby Libraries.  From 2005 to 2006, he served as Chair of the Public Services Division, followed by Associate Dean, where he stayed from 2006 to 2020.  In September 2021, he became Dean of the Leatherby Libraries, although he had served as Interim Dean on several occasions.

Ross has enjoyed being a part of the university’s upward trajectory.  “I have seen Chapman grow and improve in many ways, including in the college rankings,” he says.  “When I came here, there were approximately 2,000 students and now the student population is more than 10,000.  Back then the faculty and staff were also small and have grown significantly.”

When Ross joined Chapman, the library was housed in the two-floor Thurman Clark Memorial Library.  “The building wasn’t well designed or appealing,” he says.  “The prior Dean, Charlene Baldwin, pushed hard for a new facility, which resulted in the five-story, state-of-art Leatherby Libraries.  The library is an important resource for every single member of the school, connecting students, faculty, staff and researchers with the appropriate information for their scholarship and creative activities."

Ross’s work as Dean of the Leatherby Libraries is multi-fold.  He provides overall leadership and support for approximately 40 full-time equivalent employees through library administrative services.  He is also responsible for the efficient and effective management of the university library.  This includes managing a $7 million dollar budget, overseeing assessment of the library and its resources, DEI related activities, goal setting and strategic planning.

Library of the Future

An important part of Ross’s work is implementing library of the future initiatives determined as necessary and advisable during an outside assessment done from 2020-2021.  Suggested changes he has implemented include additional staff at the university’s Irvine Rinker campus, adding more state-of-the-art technology throughout the library and increasing the library and data services team and its offerings.  The latter includes providing workshops on library of the future topics such as artificial intelligence and its relation to data management.  The library is also partnering with the Provost’s Office, the Office of Research and IS&T on SOARS (Support of Open Access Research and Scholarship.)  Open access allows the public to access university level research.

Stephanie Takaragawa is Associate Dean of Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and comments on Ross’s contributions to the university.  “Kevin understands the needs of a growing and evolving faculty and student body,” she says.  “Chapman has changed significantly over the years, and Kevin has been there to help support everyone through his work in the library, which is at the center of any academic institution.”

In addition to his work as Dean, Ross participates in library advancement activities, including serving on a wide variety of committees.  Currently he is serving on the board of directors for the Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium (SCELC).  He has presented at conferences and published studies, some of which he has done with colleague Essraa Nawar, Chapman University Leatherby Libraries Assistant Dean for Library DEI Initiatives and Development.

Says Nawar about Ross’s contributions to the university and library science:  “Kevin is a librarian at heart dedicated to ensuring information literacy.  He is always thinking about teaching students and the university’s researchers and faculty about the most current data literacy opportunities and technology.”

Takaragawa agrees.  “Kevin supports student research through the very generous Kevin and Tam Ross Undergraduate Research Prize.  Many of my students have applied for and won this award, which encourages students to demonstrate their use of library holdings in their research.  It’s a great way to encourage students to use primary and secondary source resources and recognize how fantastic our Leatherby Libraries are.  He is also always available for faculty and students for any host of reasons, and always super supportive.”

For Ross, though he enjoys library science and all it entails, at the end of the day, it’s all about the people. “The students, faculty and staff are what make working at Chapman so fulfilling,” he says.

Article Published in the
Mar / Apr 24 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review
Written by Julie Bawden-Davis Photo by Kristin Smetona
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