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Dear students and colleagues,

I write to share some bittersweet news as we begin a new academic year. Dean of Students and our dear friend Dr. John Blackshear will become inaugural Vice President of Student Life at the University of Rochester in January 2024. While we're heartbroken to see Dr. Blackshear and his family leave Durham, we are thrilled for the entire Blackshear family as they embark on an exciting new adventure.

Dean Blackshear has been an integral part of the Duke community since 2001, the year he joined CAPS as a staff psychologist. John has held a series of important leadership roles since then, including as student ombuds and clinical director of the Academic Resource Center. In thirteen years teaching Forensic Psychology, John has inspired students’ intellectual growth and critical thinking while supporting undergraduate and graduate student research, internships and scholarship. As Academic Dean in Trinity College, John developed and co-launched the Duke STEM Pathways for Inclusion, Research, and Excellence (SPIRE) Fellows Program in 2017. He was also one of the founders of the Duke First Generation Network, which formed the foundation for Duke LIFE, a University initiative supporting low-income and first generation students. As Trinity’s Dean of Academic Affairs, John enhanced the deans’ support for Trinity students from matriculation to graduation.  And as Associate Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education, a role he continues to hold, John’s has been influential in shaping this community into one that consistently prioritizes mental health, wellbeing, inclusion and equity alongside academic rigor.

John and Time Away Office Director Kimberley Blackshear have together set the standard for welcome as Faculty in Residence on East Campus. They and their children have created a home away from home for what often feels like every single East Campus residence –  inviting students into their home for Sunday donuts, to the patio for late night consultations on every possible topic and question, and into the Trinity Common Room for their annual home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner.  As DJ JBlaze, John has also dee-jayed many an E-Ball, NCAA Final Four watch party, and countless other moments of joy and celebration.  

In his present role as Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, John ably led the Dean of Students team and the student body through the pandemic years of 2020, 2021 and 2022. He played a crucial role in launching QuadEx alongside Dean Gary Bennett and myself and brought a spirit of collaboration and shared excellence to the dean of students team. This past spring, he and Kimberly Blackshear established the Heaton-Blackshear Innovation Grant, which empowers Duke staff to develop innovative programs that serve the campus community.

Most importantly, John has been an incredible friend, source of inspiration, and sage advisor to many. He leaves us all - students, colleagues, families, anyone with ties to Duke - far better for knowing him.

The community at University of Rochester are fortunate indeed, and the opportunity awaiting John is exciting. Incoming Vice President for Student Life Blackshear will be the first to hold that title in Rochester. He’ll be focused on aligning an array of academic and student affairs functions at Rochester’s renowned undergraduate and graduate liberal arts and engineering programs with those in the Eastman School of Music and Rochester’s medical school. The role is an ideal match to John’s values, distinct experiences and the perspectives he has honed over two decades here at Duke.

More information is forthcoming about interim and long term plans for the Dean of Students area and plans to celebrate the Blackshears later this fall. John will continue as Dean of Students through the fall semester and teach Forensic Psychology as scheduled. 

Please join me in extending sincere appreciation to John and Kimberley Blackshear for their incomparable service to our students and indelible impact on everyone whose lives they’ve touched at Duke. 

Go Blue Devils – and Yellowjackets,
Mary Pat McMahon
Vice Provost & Vice President for Student Affairs
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