Dear Friends,

It's hard to believe that we're almost "looking back" on the Fall semester, but with a late Thanksgiving approaching, the days are certainly winding down.  And in this season of gratitude, I can't help but think of the many "firsts" I've had this semester, and my appreciation for the community I've found at Simmons.

In the last few months, I have met with many groups of faculty and staff and spent a great deal of time discussing and planning for the future of Simmons.  (I look forward to opportunities to meet with students as well—so far, my open office hours have yielded few takers!)  In a number of these conversations, we have focused on the "vibrancy" of campus life and have agreed that this must involve both intellectual vitality and a lively social setting.

Enriching Events

I must say that I am encouraged by the campus-wide commitment to enriching—in manifold ways—the student experience at the graduate and undergraduate levels.  Each week, I have tried to make it to some of the co-curricular events on the campus calendar.  These have ranged from the Communications Department's celebration of Professor Marlene Fine's new book, The Interracial Adoption Option, to the Zora Neale Hurston Center's wonderful reading by acclaimed poet Martín Espada, to the recent Warburg Lecture by Ambassador Robin Raphel, sponsored by the Department of Political Science and International Relations, among many others.

Faculty Commitment

What each of these events had in common was the commitment of one or more faculty members to share their expertise and passion with students and colleagues alike.  Simmons should be proud of the ways our faculty and students represent the college at these events. For example: 

  • Professor Marlene Fine and her spouse and co-author Fern L. Johnson generously shared several key moments in their book, a project that stretched each of them beyond their disciplinary expertise to focus on their personal adoption journey.
  • Alumnae Endowed Chair Afaa Michael Weaver, himself a celebrated poet, introduced both special guest Martín Espada and emerging poet Lauren Schmidt, who shared her work before Espada came to the podium.
  • Warburg Professor Mark Bellamy graciously hosted the Warburg lecture, at which a number of other former ambassadors and former Warburg Professors were in attendance.  Students attending Ambassador Raphel's talk and the dinner afterwards had to be amazed at the remarkable connections Simmons could make for them.

Indeed, I found myself reflecting last week on something that I had experienced one night in October when author and filmmaker Marjane Satrapi visited Simmons.  This was the first event I actually organized on campus, and I was thrilled when over 250 people came—undergraduates, graduate students, faculty & staff, and even Trustees; indeed, we had to set up row after row of extra chairs!  In introducing the evening, I commented that I had been trying to book Marjane Satrapi for ten years.  I simply intended to emphasize how thrilled I was that the engagement had finally worked out, but after the event, as one elated student after another had a copy of Persepolis signed and a picture snapped with the author, many of them approached me to thank me personally for making it happen.  I was struck by the tremendous gratefulness they felt for an evening of sheer enrichment; I don't think all students are so thankful for these kinds of experiences.  I appreciate that sense of wonder that our students were capable of feeling.

Engaging Students

Of course, I know that any one of these kinds of events touches some students and not others; their tastes, interests, and degree programs guide them as they make choices about their lives beyond the classroom.  At the events where I found myself over the last few months, I rarely saw the same students in repeat attendance.  So one natural question we might ask is about whether the exciting collection of happenings that we sponsor engages the number of students we would want to engage.  And in my campus discussions with faculty and staff, I think there was agreement that we could even better link the curriculum and co-curriculum so that students can more easily "connect the dots" that make up their total learning experience.

What constitutes effective enrichment differs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, but I am encouraged that we collect data that will help us continue to enhance our efforts.  Beginning in December, we will review the most recent results of our undergraduate student responses on the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), an instrument that looks at five "Benchmarks of Effective Educational Practice."  These indicators include areas specifically related to teaching and advising ("Level of Academic Challenge," "Active and Collaborative Learning," and "Student-Faculty Interaction") as well as areas that cross over to include the co-curriculum and campus life ("Enriching Educational Experiences" and "Supportive Campus Environment").

Graduate programs also seek to evaluate how well they are doing in areas such as these.  I recently had the pleasure of attending a faculty meeting of the School of Social Work, where the faculty spent a good deal of time unpacking the results of an exit survey for graduating MSW students.  I know all our Deans and their faculties think deeply about the standards for their programs and the experiences that support and augment them.

We will continue to strengthen our programs, to coordinate our work across all five schools, and to ensure a rich and seamless experience for students in all our programs.

Giving Thanks

What I'm thankful for, in this season of thankfulness, is a community of people who are prepared to bring will, imagination, and craft to these ongoing efforts.  And I'm grateful that the tasks we have ahead of us constitute truly good and meaningful work.

All the best,