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The beginning of the 2017-2018 school year brought about numerous changes ranging from construction to administration. After a failed search for a new provost, the university welcomed Deborah Whitehouse into the office.

Whitehouse was formerly dean of the college of health sciences and said she has worked at EKU for almost 34 years.

“I came here for a semester,” Whitehouse said, “and I fell in love with the place.”

Whitehouse is originally from Corbin and said she has studied in multiple universities. She said she received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky. Then, Whitehouse said, she went on to University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill for her master’s degree then attended University of Alabama in Birmingham for her doctorate.

“I would’ve come here,” Whitehouse said. “I’ve been here for student camp, but at that time Eastern did not have a bachelor of science in nursing degree and that was the degree I wanted.”

Even though she chose not to attend EKU originally, Whitehouse said she’s always known about the university. She said she came to the university in her youth after receiving a scholarship for the Foster Music Camp. Additionally, she said her high school band came to EKU for summer camp. Whitehouse said she remembers receiving the “Outstanding Woodwind in the State” award in the 8th grade, adding that it was a big deal at that time.

“From that day forward I loved Eastern,” Whitehouse said.

Prior to working for EKU, Whitehouse said she worked at Cumberland College – now known as Cumberland University – and before that she was a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. However, Whitehouse said, after receiving her doctorate she began working at EKU.

Whitehouse said she knew from an early age that she wanted to work in nursing especially after working part-time during high school at the local hospital in Corbin.

“I loved the care,” Whitehouse said. “I thought it was an exciting place and I felt privileged to be in the hospital. And I thought I would love to do nursing.”

She said after receiving her nursing degree she practiced in community mental health. Whitehouse said she mostly focused on outpatient counseling and set up day hospitals and rehab centers. It was only until the president of Cumberland College called her and invited her to work with the university that she realized she enjoyed teaching the students about nursing, Whitehouse said.

“I found that I loved the students and it was fun teaching them and taking them into clinical settings,” Whitehouse said. “So, that’s sort of how I transitioned to education.”

Even while she worked at the university, and even after she came to EKU, Whitehouse said she still practiced on and off as a volunteer until recently. She said she has more on her schedule now as provost and hasn’t had time to volunteer. Whitehouse said she used to work nights at a clinic called “Health Now,” a free clinic that helped those without insurance. She added that when she retires she plans to return to practicing and working at the clinic.

“You touch a lot of lives, indirectly, as a teacher,” Whitehouse said. “And you help people develop their career and do what they want to do.”

Due to the fact Whitehouse is now interim provost, she has had to take a break from teaching. Despite the fact she said she loves teaching, she said her love for the university made her decide to accept the position of interim provost. She said President Benson asked her to be provost after a failed university search. She said she accepted the position because she has worked in administration for a long time and knows the university well. She said she feels she can do a good job this school year.

“My first reaction was ‘I love the college. I love being dean. It’s a great college,’” Whitehouse said, “but I also love Eastern Kentucky University and I thought I could bring a good deal of experience to the position and help this year.”

Whitehouse said the university has relaunched the search for provost, adding it’s a faculty led search.

Whitehouse emphasized that this school year would be an important one and listed the university’s plans. One of their plans is to work more closely with the student success part of the university, Whitehouse said. EKU wants to increase graduation rates and help students earn their degrees faster to decrease the amount they spend at the university.

“I think of our community, and a lot of us do, as a village of sorts,” Whitehouse said. “We’re one team. We want to work in the best way that we can to help our students progress through the system and earn degrees.”

Whitehouse said there’s a record number of degrees earned from this year. She added that the university figured out the best way for students to earn their degrees quickly was to take 15 credits a semester. It also decreases the cost, Whitehouse said. If students are struggling they should reach out and ask for help as soon as possible.

“You know prevention’s a big thing in health care,” Whitehouse said, “but it is in education too. You can’t wait till midterm.”

Whitehouse said EKU is also planning on helping non-traditional students. She said the university knows that many non-traditional students are adults who work full-time and had to stop attending college, so EKU plans to help them earn their degrees and potentially change their careers. The university is also working on becoming more available online, specifically with a program called “E Campus,” Whitehouse said. This program will help students who won’t can’t be on campus learn in a virtual classroom from anywhere and it helps them connect with the university, Whitehouse said.

“All universities are looking at the other ways to offer education to folks,” Whitehouse said. “And that doesn’t mean we aren’t paying attention to our on-campus students because we are.”

In addition to her passion for student success, EKU, music and science Whitehouse said she specifically loves how green the campus is. She said her favorite part of the campus is the Ravine. She said she remembers when she was young and the band she was in would play concerts at the Ravine. Whitehouse said she believes the Ravine is a great place for students to gather and it’s one of the many places on campus for moments of quiet, reflection and a way to enjoy the state.

“There’s something about a special place that you love,” Whitehouse said.