Get to know CASL Dean Dagmar Budikova

July 24, 2023

Dean Dagmar Budikova shares why the UM-Dearborn community and our mission resonate with her and how much she’s looking forward to her new College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters leadership role.

Photo of CASL Dean Dagmar Budikova
Dean Dagmar Budikova is looking forward to her new College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters leadership role. Photo by Sarah Tuxbury

College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters Dean Dagmar Budikova is highly regarded as a teacher and scholar. She received her B.S. in environmental science from the University of Toronto and her Ph.D. from the University of Calgary, focusing in physical geography and climatology. She comes to UM-Dearborn from Illinois State University where she taught as a faculty member for nearly 25 years, and also served as chair of the Department of Geography, Geology, and the Environment, and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

But who is the person behind the accomplishments and accolades? Budikova — who goes by Dean Dagmar — has been passionate about education as far back as she can remember. She understands the challenges of navigating new cultural experiences; as an adolescent, she moved to multiple countries to escape oppression and each move came with a new language and social norms. And she believes higher education holds a key to improving outcomes both at an individual and a community level.

Budikova recently shared why UM-Dearborn’s community and our mission resonate with her and how much she’s looking forward to her new CASL leadership role.

She enjoys creating campus-community partnerships.

Talking about professional moments of pride, there are many. But Budikova said one in particular stands out: when she founded and directed the Institute for Geospatial Analysis & Mapping (GEOMAP) at Illinois State University. At the institute, she supported faculty-led research, connected students with real world educational opportunities and conducted community outreach activities to enhance the understanding of environmental and social challenges in an effort to create a sustainable future.

“It was a powerful testament to the relevance of higher education in our society. We were creating positive change for the people in the community, bringing in research grants that advanced our work, and connecting students to good-paying and meaningful work opportunities,” said Budikova. For example, the institute’s faculty and students worked with the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging to map and model senior citizen populations in the region to give the government organization the data they needed to best direct their resources and services. And the students she worked with went on to careers like city planners and geospatial analysts from the local to federal level.

Budikova said engaged learning resonates with her and that UM-Dearborn’s practice-based learning approach attracted her to the CASL leadership role. “It’s a powerful way to educate,” she said.

She relates to the UM-Dearborn student experience.

UM-Dearborn is known for its hard-working students who commute to campus, have family responsibilities and are often navigating a way of life that is different than their families experienced. And Budikova empathizes. As an undergraduate, she lived at home and balanced obligations at work, home and school.

Like many UM-Dearborn students, she knows what it’s like to experience adversity and come through it. Budikova and her family moved to Canada from the Czech Republic when she was 12 to flee human rights infringements. Leaving everything behind, they first stayed at a refugee camp in Italy and then she helped her family when they settled into their new North American home. “When I hear stories about our students, they can adapt quickly to new situations, keep going in the face of adversity, and appreciate the value of diversity — in culture or opinion — because of their life experiences,” she said.

“Helping students realize their potential has always been my driving force. I wish I had the type of support I see at UM-Dearborn when I was a student. That support is so important when you are in or coming from challenging situations. I want students to know that I am here to continue the work faculty and staff are doing to help you discover your potential and connect you to what you want to do and be. If you are struggling, reach out for help. Don’t give up. Keep going.”

She knows the value of the arts and the sciences.

Budikova appreciates the richness that art and creativity brings into the world. When thinking about growing up in the Czech Republic, Budikova recalls the smell of paint. Her father sculpted using granite and marble and restored historic European artifacts and buildings. Her brothers played music and painted — and continue to have art-based careers. Admiring their artistic inclination, she drew, painted and even tried her hand at playing the guitar. “I wasn’t good. I’d even call my guitar playing a disaster,” she said.“But it helped me better appreciate what it takes to create. There are lessons in everything.”

Naturally inclined to understand numbers and formulas, Budikova gravitated toward STEM subjects — like her mother, who had a career as an engineer — and thrived in ecology, biology and mathematics. Budikova was even on the pre-med track prior to switching to environmental science and climatology. “I took an elective intro class in environmental science and was interested in the conversations we were having about how one seemingly tiny change locally can lead to a major change somewhere down the line,” she said. “I found, and still find, it fascinating how interconnected every living thing is.”

Budikova said the arts and sciences — merging the creative, qualitative, and quantitative sides of thought - are needed when addressing any challenge, but especially those facing our world and societies in the 21st century. And she’s looking forward to working at a college with faculty who have expertise in both. “I am here to help navigate the next chapter of CASL’s history,” she said,  “The faculty are amazing here. They are dedicated and talented to students and the university. I saw commitment and it attracted me to UM-Dearborn. This university has all the right ingredients needed to move us forward.”

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.