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Saint Mary’s creates new roles in Student Academic Services

and | Friday, August 31, 2018

The beginning of the academic year marked a significant change in the administrative operations at Saint Mary’s. Due to the retirement of Susan Vanek, associate dean of advising and director of first year studies, Saint Mary’s divided Vanek’s responsibilities into three new roles, all which fall under the Student Academic Services division.

Philosophy professor Karen Chambers has been hired as dean of student academic services, which is one of the three new roles. The other two positions, director of academic advising and registrar and director of first year experience and retention, have yet to be filled.

“My position is new, but only because the person that was sitting here before — Susan Vanek — she had served the College for a really long time, and she was doing so much that they didn’t feel like one person could legitimately do it,” Chambers said. “So we reorganized a lot of the tasks she did.”

Chambers’s duties center around developing College policy, serving on committees and advising on high-level advising issues, she said.

“We’re doing a little bit of revision at the College to try to serve students better, and so this division is trying to pull together some of the services that we offer to students so that we might be able to do work across groups,” Chambers said.

Another of Chambers’s responsibilities, she said, is overseeing the processes of other departments and their leaders, including the new position of director of first year experience and retention. This will enable smooth communication between the various organizations across campus, she said.

“That’s going to be somebody who dual-reports to Karen Johnson, vice president of student affairs, and myself,” Chambers said. “So, [with the director of first year experience and retention] we’re going to try as one of the key points of bridging student life and student academics together so that there’s a cohesive first year experience, but also first year students have different kinds of concerns and crises and to sort of work together in a concerted kind of way to serve those students.”

The College decided to add the director of academic advising and registrar in order to assist in making the two offices more cohesive.

“We’re going to try to integrate these two offices more … so there’s less walking a piece of paper back and forth between the two offices and we can again work together so students aren’t being run around as much,” Chambers said. “We are just down the hall, but still. Sometimes they send you to the registrar and then they send you back here, and you know if we’re together we might be able to streamline some of those tasks a little more.”

Chambers said she hopes combining these offices and their services will make it easier for faculty to assist students throughout their academic journeys.

“If we’re not chasing things down and reminding each other of things so much, if we’re working as a unit, then we should have more time to advise our students, to work with our students and those kinds of things,” she said.

Handling the challenges that may accompany such close and frequent work with students is one of the aspects of being the dean of student academic services that appealed to Chambers, she said.

“There’s something new to think about or something new to learn,” she said. “So personally, that’s what I like. But I also am interested in trying to work with the administration on student-centered policy. So coming from the faculty and being at that kind of level discussion I think gives a different view of how we’re thinking about students and student services. So I think that will be useful for Saint Mary’s and that service to Saint Mary’s is enriching to me.”

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Jordan Cockrum is a senior at Saint Mary's studying Communications and Humanistic Studies. She currently serves as Saint Mary's Editor.

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