Paula Wallace’s 37-year journey at the College almost did not happen. Hired as a temporary French professor and resident director in 1973, Wallace intended to move on to a full-time teaching position elsewhere.
“I always wanted to teach,” said Wallace, who was later promoted to assistant dean and is now associate dean. “And I am able to do that every day—just not in the classroom. I try to teach students how to think, not what to think. The education we provide here is transformative, and if they are open and their work ethic is strong, this place can have an extraordinary impact in the lives of students. I love being a part of that.”
Wallace, who has worked under nine deans of the College, heads Randolph’s advising program, coordinates support services, and assists with the recruitment and retention of students. “Paula has the perfect combination of knowledge and empathy,” said Dennis Stevens, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College. “She understands the workings of the College. She understands in a broad sense what a liberal arts education is, and she is, at the core of her being, student-centered. She helps students figure things out themselves, but provides guidance at the same time. That takes a delicate kind of balance.”
Wallace is often the point person for students needing support or help overcoming academic challenges. She is guided in her work by the philosophies of Wallace Kingman Brewster, former president of Yale University. Brewster identified the primary goals of a college education as the development of three senses: a sense of place, a sense of judgment, and a sense of self. “That translates into the goals of the education students receive here,” Wallace said. “And those are things that distinguish this place. We don’t want to make students do things, but to discover ways of doing things.”
The College and its students are an integral part of Wallace’s life. She met her husband, George, when he headed security. Wallace fondly remembers that he proposed via e-mail because he said he could not get an appointment with her. They eloped on her lunch hour and were married 14 years before he died in 2004. “George taught me about the importance of balance,” Wallace said. “You have to learn to balance your work, your family, and the needs of your soul.”
One of Wallace’s favorite things is receiving letters and e-mails from graduates. “They write and tell us how grateful they are to have had this experience. They always say, ‘Dean Wallace, you’ll never believe what I’m doing now.’
“It never surprises me,” she added, smiling. “We believe in them all along.”