With Focus on Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Damon Yarnell joins Colby as Dean of Student and Global Advancement

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Yarnell brings a long history of helping students, and others, find their "authentic interests"

Damon Yarnell, Colby's Dean of Student and Global Advancement
By Bob Keyes
January 20, 2022

Damon Yarnell, associate provost and executive director of the Advising, Internships & Career Center at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, will become dean of student and global advancement at Colby, where he will use his background in liberal arts, design, and technology to connect students with career and educational opportunities in the United States and around the world.

At Colby, Yarnell will lead DavisConnects–an innovative program that prepares students for lifelong success by integrating the liberal arts with access to unique internship, research, and global experiences for every student, regardless of personal or financial networks–and build partnerships with faculty, alumni, parents and guardians, corporations, and programs to create new opportunities for students and faculty members.

He begins his new position on Feb. 14.

Yarnell earned a Ph.D. in science and technology studies at the University of Pennsylvania, an M.F.A. in design from the University of the Arts, and a B.A. in comparative literature at Columbia. He spent more than 11 years at Dickinson, a liberal arts college in central Pennsylvania, where he specialized in advising and student success. He became associate provost in 2018.

At Colby, Yarnell will build partnerships and connections on campus and off so students have a wider range of real-world, hands-on educational opportunities, and he will advance the goals and mission of DavisConnects, which was established in 2017 with a $25-million gift from the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund.

His position at Colby will enable him to continue his career-long interest in entrepreneurism, innovation, and career development. Yarnell’s specialties include researching trends in labor and the workforce, including higher education. His academic background aligns perfectly with the mission of DavisConnects, he said.

“Colby’s entrepreneurial culture was the essential fit,” Yarnell said. “I am used to working with people who say ‘yes’ and seek to help, rather than say ‘no’ and stand in the way.”

Dean of the College Karlene Burrell-McRae ’94 praised Yarnell for his experience, vision, and his collaborative nature.

“I could not be more thrilled that Damon has accepted our offer to become the new leader of DavisConnects. He will bring creativity, innovation, and an eagerness to ensure DavisConnects continues to build substantive partnerships and opportunities for our students and faculty,” Burrell-McRae said. “We are also gaining an amazing leader and collaborator who appreciates the role DavisConnects can play in advancing academic excellence and self-discovery.”

Colby President David A. Greene said Yarnell’s academic background and his professional experiences make him an ideal choice to lead DavisConnects. “Damon has spent his career connecting classroom education with real-world outcomes, which makes him a perfect fit for Colby,” Greene said. “DavisConnects ensures that all of our students, regardless of their financial background or personal networks, have access to funded internships, research opportunities, and global experiences that go beyond studying abroad. Research has shown these high-impact opportunities benefit students by preparing them for life after college, and that is exactly what Damon has been doing throughout his career and what he brings to Colby.”

Yarnell stood out among a strong pool of candidates because of his background in liberal arts and his ability to help students, and particularly international students, compete for prestigious scholarships and fellowships in the United States and abroad, said Dasan Thamattoor, Colby’s J. Warren Merrill Professor of Chemistry and Natural History, who served on the search committee. “His awareness of, and sensitivity to, particular challenges faced by international students, as well as underserved student constituencies, were compelling aspects of his candidacy,” Thamattoor said.

In addition to Thamattoor, the Colby search committee included Burrell-McRae; Tayo Clyburn, dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion; Ghada Gherwash, assistant professor and director of the Farnham Writers’ Center; Matt Proto, vice president and chief institutional advancement officer; and Andrea Tilden, the Leslie Brainerd Arey Chair in Biosciences. Students on the committee included Sharde Johnson ’22, Muhammad Ussaid Mustajab ’24, and Jesse Kase ’23.

Yarnell grew up in Manhattan, and he worked as a builder and developer in North Carolina before his interest in regional economic development based around technology led to graduate school and a postdoctoral fellowship at Drexel University. There, he joined an NSF-funded team conducting research on nanotechnology innovation, workforce, and economic development. He considered a career in public policy but opted for academics.

At Dickinson, Yarnell began as associate dean of academic advising and earned successive promotions leading to his most recent role. He reorganized the advising program to emphasize students’ pursuit of their “authentic interests,” helped affirm students’ sense of purpose and belonging, and led the integration of Dickinson’s academic and career advising programs to provide students comprehensive support throughout their college careers.

Yarnell’s team developed an innovative academic and career advising curriculum and achieved new highs in Dickinson’s internship, fellowship, and national honors programs. At the same time, he co-led strategic initiatives emphasizing the future of work and education.

The relationship among education, expertise, and success in the wider world represents a throughline of Damon’s career. In North Carolina, he worked with a team that analyzed the origins and impacts of the famous Research Triangle, and he later studied issues of economic development and labor in Silicon Valley, Detroit, and elsewhere.

“One key question is whether a narrow specialization fosters the kind of agility people need to succeed in today’s rapidly changing environment,” Yarnell said of his research. “My conviction is that the combination of breadth and depth that Colby’s curriculum offers provides the best foundation for immediate and long-term success, and I am eager to join the College in making sure that DavisConnects achieves excellence at the leading edge of the field.”

At Colby, he will continue his commitment to preparing students for the future, whatever it brings. The single most valuable skill in today’s world is agility, he said.

“People must be mobile throughout their working lives, take multiple jobs, and work through multiple careers in a lifetime,” he said. “The ability to solve complex problems will require an entrepreneurial mindset, the ability to collaborate, and the ability to see and analyze problems from multiple perspectives.”

Yarnell said he was attracted to Colby because of its forward momentum and the synergy among academic departments, particularly involving student success after graduation. With DavisConnects and the Davis Institute for Artificial Intelligence, established in 2021, Colby has positioned itself on the leading edge of understanding the future of work and how employees must adapt to changes within their fields and major shifts within the larger culture, he said.

“The Davis Institute and Colby’s new entrepreneurial initiative will only further enhance Colby’s position with regard to the preparation of an uncertain future,” he said. “Together, I think the entire package really distinguishes Colby even more from other elite institutions.”