Professional Bio

Peter Kerry Powers, Ph.D.


Peter Kerry Powers is the founding dean of the School of Arts, Culture, and Society at Messiah University. His leadership has been characterized by three primary areas of concern:  advocacy for global engagement and inclusive excellence, engagement of the liberal arts with the sciences and emerging technologies, and enlarging our understanding of the liberal arts to include engagement with experiential learning and with professional programs. He has been responsible for hiring, developing and evaluating faculty, for developing curricular and other educational programming and for assessment of student learning.  He has oversight of 3 assistant deans and 14 department chairs and program directors in a school of 82 full-time faculty members and 1300 undergraduate students. His responsibilities have included implementing departmental program reviews, overseeing assessment of student learning, and managing facilities and capital associated with educational programming. He has successfully initiated new curricular programs in Criminal Justice, Chinese Studies, Ethnic and Area Studies, Digital Humanities, Digital Media and others.  He has also fostered public-oriented programming in the Digital Humanities and in the Public Humanities, and has led departments in addressing student needs in career preparation. He has extended the mission of the school and enhanced recruitment by developing new summer programming for high school students including the Young Writers Workshop, Young Filmmakers Workshop, and FaithWorks, the last a project funded by the Lilly endowment to deepen theological inquiry among high school youth.  He has initiated a successful scholarship program in the Humanities. He has overseen the completion of a 2 million dollar endowment for the Messiah University Center for Public Humanities, and has raised nearly 500 thousand dollars in other program grants and donations, besides supporting individual faculty in the granting and fellowship process. Most recently he was lead writer for a $978,000 grant from the Lilly Foundation to help Messiah University support the work of racial justice among local congregations in the Central Pennsylvania.

Dean Powers work is characterized by a robust commitment to the liberal arts while simultaneously embracing the crucial need to prepare students for professional lives after college. He has had responsibility for oversight of not only traditional liberal arts programs such as Philosophy, English, and History, but also professional programming such as Business, Education, Criminal Justice and public relations, as well as programs in the arts such as Film and Digital Arts, Art and Design, Theatre, and Music.  His work suggests not only that professional programs are strengthened by a robust commitment to the liberal arts, but that liberal arts programs are fully realized when students begin to apply their learning in various professional or other practice-oriented settings. This kind of integrated learning can occur both within traditional disciplines as they are assessed and transformed, and within new and innovative interdisciplinary programs designed to achieve these integrated ends, reaching across not only disciplinary boundaries, but across divisions between student and academic affairs as well.  These integrated efforts spring from a belief that theory is most fully grasped through practice, even as the details of our practical lives call for imaginative engagement with the life of the mind to be fully and effectively lived. Dean Powers is convinced that for students to be truly free—the central imperative of a liberal arts education—they must be prepared to reflect upon and inquire after the truth; they must also be prepared to apply the truth they discover in creative lives of service to others. In doing so, they will understand themselves, their academic disciplines, and others more deeply.

Dean Powers work has been characterized by a focus on inclusive excellence. He has conducted numerous successful faculty searches that have significantly diversified the School.  The School of Arts, Culture, and Society has diversified its educational programming by beginning new programs in Chinese Studies, Chinese Education, and Ethnic and Area studies, and the program in Peace and Conflict Studies, which includes emphases on cross cultural and interreligious peacemaking. The Center for the Public Humanities has created new opportunities for student and faculty engagement with diverse populations in the Harrisburg area through the Digital Harrisburg project and the Public Humanities Fellows program. These programs extend our community engagement and give students and faculty experience in applying the liberal arts to real world problems in local communities.

In addition to his primary role as Dean, Powers has provided university-wide leadership in various capacities as the Provost’s or President’s appointee. He co-chaired Messiah’s strategic planning process, and he served as co-chair of the Middle States accreditation process. He has led a university-wide task force reviewing faculty FTE allocations, and he has served as the Provost’s representative on a task force reviewing policies and standards for tenure and promotion.  He currently serves on a leadership team responsible for implementation of the new strategic plan, with a particularly focused role on developing Messiah University’s program in undergraduate research. These opportunities have provided a strong overview of institutional operations and strategic needs.

Prior to becoming Dean, Powers served Messiah College as Department Chair of English for six years and Director of Writing for three years.  Earlier, he co-chaired Messiah College’s first campus task force (later college-wide committee) on racial justice and reconciliation.  He continues to hold the title of Full Professor of English.  Prior to coming to Messiah College he was a visiting assistant professor at George Mason University and at Hampden-Sydney College.

Dean Powers graduated from Wheaton College with a B.A. in English (magna cum laude, 1982), and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana (1985), and an MA (1988) and PhD (1991) in English from Duke University.  He has published a book, Recalling Religions: Resistance, Memory and Cultural Revision in Ethnic Women’s Literature, and numerous articles, presentations, and reviews, primarily in the area of U.S. ethnic literature and religion.  A new book on Masculinity and Religion in the Harlem Renaissance, entitled Goodbye Christ?, was published by the University of Tennessee Press in 2017.  He is currently working on a book on the liberal arts and humanities entitled The End(s) of the Humanities that articulates his philosophy of liberal arts education in the 21st century.