Laura Belmonte calls herself an “odd duck” because of how much she loved the often-thankless role of department head. It inspired her to pursue the next logical career step: becoming the College of Arts and Sciences’ associate dean for instruction and personnel.
Among the many responsibilities of this position are ensuring quality instruction, handling student and faculty complaints, and overseeing faculty hiring and promotion.
“I really care about mentoring, and I’m looking forward to helping new department heads make a smoother transition into that position,” said Belmonte, who served as head of the Department of History from 2014 until her promotion on June 22. “I am going to be proactive, going through things like governance documents and budgets with them at the start. I’ve found it’s better to tackle those issues before problems arise. It is important to have clear, enforced policies.”
Belmonte came to OSU in 1996 after finishing her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. She had previously earned a 1991 master’s at Virginia and a 1989 bachelor’s at the University of Georgia, all in history. She helped found the OSU Women’s Studies Program in 1996 and served as director of the American Studies Program from 2007-2012. That led to her promotion to department head.
Even as her administrative responsibilities have increased, Belmonte continues to teach classes and conduct research. She enjoys those roles as well as the challenges of administration.
“To me, it’s all just a different set of intellectual puzzles,” Belmonte said. “I like teaching, and it’s important to focus on that as the key mission of our university. Administration is engaging, and it’s a different way of helping students and faculty. And I think it’s important to maintain an active research agenda because I will be in a position of evaluating the scholarship of others.”
Belmonte’s research is often focused on one of her passion areas: the LGBT rights movement. She has been a leading advocate in Oklahoma, founding one of the precursors of Freedom Oklahoma. It led to a lot of experience with nonprofits, where she learned valuable lessons about fundraising, organizational and budget management, governance and interacting with the media. She said those experiences have helped her succeed as an academic administrator.
“I have also worked for a long time at OSU to advance diversity and inclusion, and part of my job in this role is to be the college equity officer,” Belmonte said. “Helping to diversify our faculty is immensely important to me. I have seen the impact that can make on our students.”
Belmonte was born in New York and grew up in Dallas and Atlanta, with the family following her father’s career. She was the first member of her family in four generations to graduate from college.
“Our joke is that I was the first to go and the last to leave,” Belmonte said.
She came to OSU expecting to stay for three or four years. One reason she is still here decades later is her appreciation for the university’s leadership. She even turned down an opportunity to become a dean at another university because she preferred to accept the CAS associate dean role.
“The people who run this university are ethical people,” Belmonte said. “They are good stewards of resources and they really care about what they are doing. You can be at the higher echelons of power here and feel proud to be a part of what is happening. That’s not the case at every university. The longer I’ve worked in administrative roles, the more I appreciate that about OSU.”
She and her wife, Susie, live in Stillwater with their two dogs – William Howard Taft and James Madison.
Other changes in CAS
Belmonte's promotion was one of many approved by the OSU/A&M Board of Regents during the regular meeting June 22 in Oklahoma City. Christopher Francisco was promoted from associate professor to professor and department head in Mathematics. Ramesh Kaipa was promoted from assistant professor to associate professor and department head for Communication Sciences and Disorders. Farida Jalalzai was appointed department head for Political Science. Finally, Camelia Knapp was appointed professor and head of the Boone Pickens School of Geology.