Search for class dean draws to close

With the implementation of the Clustered Learning Advocacy and Support for Students initiative, spots for four assistant deans for the residence commons and a class dean have opened up. Currently, three of the four live-in assistant dean positions are filled, and the school is in the process of searching for someone to fill the fourth spot. The appointment of the first class dean was announced to the campus community on February 24, and class dean for the Rensselaer Class of 2013 Amy Pettengill’s first day on the job was Monday.

The freshman class will now begin the process of transitioning from turning to the Office of the First-Year Experience as a resource to turning to Pettengill, who will be their class dean for the remainder of their time at RPI. “The establishment of a class dean model will give students time-based support for their academic and personal development,” explained Vice President for Student Life Eddie Ade Knowles in his February 24 e-mail announcing Pettengill’s appointment. Associate Vice President for the Student Experience Lisa Trahan elaborated on the purpose of a class dean, stating that the duties of this position include encouraging students to get involved in the residence commons and Sophomore-Year Experience, following the class through graduation, and coordinating with the class council and five schools when necessary. The class dean also sits on the Intervention Team, “a multidisciplinary group of faculty and staff responsible for the development of campus-wide strategies to increase the safety net and student retention initiatives,” according to Knowles.

Pettengill was chosen from a national search spearheaded by the Division of Human Resources. “We didn’t use the usual sources in terms of advertising, and [HR] connected with a number of professional associations and linkages for us online that really generated a broad array of candidates from around the country,” explained Knowles. The FYE Office looked for applicants that demonstrated strong collaborative spirit, had experience working in higher education, and understood the basic needs of students and student development. Pettengill was an “outstanding candidate” because of her “diverse experience,” said Trahan.

That diverse experience included Pettengill’s years as a college counselor for high school students in Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, where she focused on the transition from high school to university, as well as her time as assistant dean and international student advisor at Williams College. Part of Pettengill’s motivation for accepting the class dean position was the desire to work with undergraduate students again, and she stated that what she most looks forward to is interaction with students. She is also excited about joining at the very beginning of the CLASS initiative, commenting that she enjoyed “this spirit and this energy” that comes with being “part of the building of something from the ground up.”

“[Pettengill]’s a fantastic addition to our team given her background and experience. She’ll add, I think, a great value to the overall effort; she comes with an understanding of what this is all about in terms of how the class dean plays into assuring that we build a strong affinity for the class,” said Knowles. “With the launch of the SophomoreYear Experience coming this next academic year, this gives her time to get on board and really get engaged with the whole planning process.” Pettengill’s plans in the meantime include an effort to engage with the Class of 2013.

It’s “important … to get a sense of the culture here,” she explained, noting that she intends to sit in on classes and attend events in order to make her transition as seamless as possible. She hopes to create “some familiarity and connection” with the class to avoid meeting students for the first time when they’re in a crisis.

The search for the fourth live-in assistant dean continues, but “we’re finishing up interviews for the fourth position, so hopefully before the end of the spring we’ll have the assistant deans all in place,” Knowles said.

The assistant dean, who will live in Crockett Hall, will be responsible for meeting with and coaching students and “ensuring [the] residence commons becomes a platform for learning, for exploration,” said Trahan. The dean will be selected based on residence life experience and interest in student administration, among other qualities.

“Overall, this has been a very successful process for us … considering where we are now, we have plenty of time now to finalize plans for the upcoming year with the rollout and launch of the Sophomore Year Experience,” said Knowles.