Virginia McDermott Announced as New School of Communication Dean

She will assume the role July 1, taking over for interim Dean Elizabeth Coffman.

Loyola announced Virginia McDermott will serve as the new dean of the School of Communication effective July 1 in a March 5 press release, replacing interim Dean Elizabeth Coffman. 

As the first high school and college graduate in her family, McDermott told The Phoenix she entered college knowing two things: she wanted to make a lot of money, and she didn’t want to teach. However, upon entering college, McDermott said she realized her passion for education. 

“It’s just such an engaging, invigorating career because you’re always learning and helping other people learn,” McDermott said. “This doesn’t feel like a job. It feels like something I love doing, I’m passionate about and I enjoy.”

(Courtesy of Virginia McDermott)

Inspired by a mass communications course she took, McDermott said the subject sparked her interest leading her to pursue her degrees in the field. She earned her bachelors in communication from the College of New Jersey, her masters in communication from Texas State University and her doctorate in communication from the University of Illinois, according to the press release.  

McDermott has worked at High Point University in North Carolina for almost 14 years and has been dean of their Nido R. Qubein School of Communication for the last five years. 

McDermott said she first heard about the position at Loyola when she was contacted by the dean search committee in October. She said the main contributor for her switch to Loyola was the university’s commitment to students and community.

“The faculty want to make a difference for the students, and the students want to make a difference for each other,” McDermott said. “That is inspiring to see, and I’m excited to be a part of that.”

Lee Hood, associate professor in the School of Communication and chair of the dean search committee, said the search for the new dean began in June. Hood said the committee narrowed down the potential candidates through various extensive interviews. 

Loyola’s School of Communication also held an event for students to meet with the potential dean candidates where Hood said anyone who met with the candidates had the opportunity to complete a survey which was included in the dean committee’s report. 

Hood said McDermott was a standout candidate due to her high energy and innovative ideas. She said McDermott’s previous experience in leadership positions provided a promising foundation for what she could achieve at Loyola. 

“I think she will represent us well in the various venues that you want a dean to be representing you,” Hood said. “She will really help us increase our profile both on campus and outside of it.” 

When speaking with students at the School of Communication event, McDermott said the attention to student voices was a significant factor in her decision to join Loyola.

“If there weren’t students involved, I’m not sure I would’ve been interested in the position,” McDermott said. “What we do is about students. If they were not going to have students’ voices, it would say something about how they do not center students in the decisions that they make.” 

Blake Hall, a fourth-year multimedia journalism major and one of two students on the dean search committee, said she believed her position on the committee was to voice what she wished she saw from the School of Communication during her time at Loyola. 

Hall was suggested to be on the committee by Hood who said she thought Hall would be a good fit for the role due to previous positive experiences with her in class and her position as an upperclassman. 

When sifting through candidates, Hall said an important attribute for her was finding a dean who was approachable and would make students feel seen, which she believed McDermott would achieve through her charismatic nature. 

“She was very passionate and her work that she’s doing at her current school is the energy that we need at our school,” Hall said. “She has a lot of big ideas that aren’t too far fetched and would bring Loyola’s School of Communications to the next level.”  

Having served as interim dean for the past two years, Coffman said she is excited to see what McDermott will achieve after Coffman passes the torch.

“Dean McDermott really understands all of the work and is a very experienced administrator,” Coffman said. “She’s also overseeing a very similar kind of program to ours so she supports the growth of communications and is a strategic communications scholar herself.”

Coffman said she has worked at Loyola for 20 years and didn’t apply for the permanent dean position. She still plans to continue as faculty at Loyola. 

As McDermott prepares to assume her new role this summer, she said her resounding message would be her desire to meet and connect with the student body.

“I have an open door,” McDermott said. “You don’t even need to set an appointment — just come visit and let me know what you’re doing and how I can help. It’s amazing how quickly we can create something when we’re all in it together.”

Laila Ali

Laila Ali