Confirmation ‘a bit of a bear,’ DeVos jokes to Ed. Dept.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos smiles after addressing the department staff at the Department of Education on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017 in Washington. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

WASHINGTON, DC (WOOD) — Newly-minted Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos broke the ice Wednesday with a joke.

“There’s no need to pull any punches. For me personally, this confirmation process and the drama it engendered has been a bit of bear,” DeVos told the Department of Education workers with a sly smile.

DeVos’ confirmation hearing comment about allowing guns in some schools because of the threat of grizzly bears led to scrutiny and criticism about the nominee. Two Republican senators – Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – broke from their party in voting against DeVos. Both said they appreciate DeVos’ commitment to children and learning, but that her lack of experience in the nation’s public schools was a deep concern.

A day after the Senate confirmed DeVos with a historic tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence, the West Michigan philanthropist toured the Department of Education’s Washington, D.C. facilities with her husband, billionare Dick DeVos.

Vice President Mike Pence swears in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2016, as DeVos’ husband Dick DeVos watches. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Vice President Mike Pence swears in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2016, as DeVos’ husband Dick DeVos watches. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Shortly after the tour, Betsy DeVos delivered a ten-minute speech to department workers. The address focused on unity, open-mindedness and diversity.

“I’m here to serve with you. I’m committed to working with everyone and anyone, from every corner of the country, from every walk of life, from every background. And with those who supported my nomination, and those who did not, to protect, strengthen and create new world class education opportunities for America’s students,” the Secretary of Education said.

>>WATCH: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addresses department

Betsy DeVos now takes the helm of a department charged with implementing laws affecting the nation’s public schools with no direct experience with traditional public schools. Her opponents noted that she has no experience running public schools, nor has she attended one or sent her children to one.

Betsy DeVos appeared humbled during her speech Wednesday.

“Even though I’m a grandmother, since this is my first day, I know I’m the newbie, and I have a lot to learn. I pledge to listen and learn from you and stakeholders around our country. I hope to earn your trust and confidence as we work together,” she said.

Betsy DeVos also will have to address several hot-button issues in higher education, such as rising tuition costs, growing student debt and the troubled for-profit colleges, many of which have closed down, leaving students with huge loans and without a good education or job prospects.

Close attention also will be paid to how Betsy DeVos deals with sexual assault and freedom of speech on campuses.

“Let’s make this deal: I will challenge all on how and why we’ve done things a certain way. But I will listen to each of you on your ideas on how we can do better for students. You are professionals whom I respect,” she said.

“To everyone on this team, my challenge is simple: think big, be bold and act to serve students,” Betsy DeVos added.

“It’s Day One for me, but it’s simply the next day in this department’s history to pursue its mission. I’m ready to work for you. Let’s get started,” she concluded.