Christine Siegel, PhD, brings her respect for collaboration and reputation for leadership to the role of the Unversity’s Chief Academic Officer.

Christine Siegel, PhD, brings her respect for collaboration and reputation for leadership to the role of the Unversity’s Chief Academic Officer.

On July 1, 2018 Christine Siegel, PhD, enthusiastically knocks the word “interim” off of her title and becomes provost of Fairfield University.

A member of the faculty since 2005 and a leading figuree in the University’s academic self-assessment, she was appointed after an extensive national search. The appointment of Dr. Siegel as the University’s chief academic officer is a critical step in the next stage of Fairfield University’s evolution under President Mark R. Nemec, PhD, to define and refine its identity as the modern, Jesuit Catholic University.

The strategic vision for the University going forward includes a renewed emphasis on graduate and continuing education while ensuring that the undergraduate curriculum continues to be rigorous and adaptive to emerging professional fields. In her role as provost, Dr. Siegel will oversee Fairfield’s entire academic enterprise, including the University’s five schools and colleges, continuing and professional education departments, international programs, library, and student support services.

She will work closely with President Nemec and Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Lawlor ’79 to further Fairfield’s rise as a top northern regional university, and to advance Fairfield’s goal of becoming more national in scope and global in outlook.

Of the selection of Dr. Siegel, Dr. Nemec said, “In the search process, Christine stood out as a visionary academic leader who will continue to build upon Fairfield’s rise as a values-based, student-centric, outcomes-focused university. Her commitment to building academic capacity, developing innovative programs, and furthering our renown impressed all who met with her. I have had the privilege of working with her this past year in her role as interim provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs and I look forward to our continued collaboration.”

Dr. Siegel joined the Fairfield University faculty 13 years ago as an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions (GSEAP). Her administrative responsibilities at the University began with her appointment to GSEAP associate dean and University consultant for assessment.

From there, Dr. Siegel became vice provost and associate vice president, where she was instrumental in writing the University’s strategic plan.

Since January 1, 2017, when Dr. Siegel took on the role of interim provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, she has led a number of significant initiatives, among them: hiring academic leadership, reshaping the role of Fairfield’s academic centers, enhancing classroom technology, leading a successful accreditation process, revising the core curriculum, and refreshing the honors program.

Her appointment to provost has been greeted enthusiastically by faculty and other academic leaders on campus.

Richard Greenwald, PhD, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, chaired the provost search committee and had this to say, “Dr. Siegel brings a great deal to this most important academic role. She has presence and grace, a respect for collaborative leadership, and a deep commitment to our Jesuit mission.

“As someone who knows the larger higher education landscape, she brings an appreciation of how we fit into the world and how we can continue our rise as best fulfill President Nemec’s desire for us to be the modern, Jesuit University,” he said.

“As interim provost, Dr. Siegel has shown real leadership,” said Susan Rakowitz, PhD, secretary of the general faculty and member of the search committee. “She has deep respect for faculty governance and for the work that faculty do. I welcome her appointment as provost.”

Philosophy Professor Dennis Keenan, PhD, who has worked alongside Dr. Siegel on the Rank and Tenure and the Core Revision committees, agreed, “I’ve always been impressed with her willingness to truly listen, and her persistent advocacy for academic concerns to her fellow administrators.”

From Practitioner to Academic

Dr. Siegel was born and raised in the Hudson River Valley town of Hyde Park, N.Y. She remained in Dutchess County, teaching high school science in the Millbrook school district after receiving her bachelor’s degree in biology from Marist College.

“Two years out, I lost that job when the district’s budget got defeated,” said Dr. Siegel, recalling the soft economy of the early ’90s, “so I went back to school to get a master’s degree.”

What began as a yearlong master’s program turned into a seven-year pursuit of a PhD in educational psychology and statistics at SUNY Albany, which she completed in 1998.

Licensed as a psychologist and certified as a school psychologist, Dr. Siegel went to work in both elementary and middle school settings in New York. But she always kept a foot in teaching and scholarship – as an adjunct professor, in professional associations, and doing action research. After four or five years, she was ready to make the full transition from practitioner to academic.

Seeking job references, Dr. Siegel contacted some former professors at SUNY Albany. One mentor, who had moved to Georgia State, offered not only recommendations… but a job. She relocated to Atlanta, where she enjoyed the challenge of working in a doctoral program of a large research institution, pulling in big grants to support a lab of PhD students.

“This call’s for me.”

But what she really wanted to do was work to develop the practitioners who would go on to work with students in schools. So in 2005, when a job call came into her office about an opening for a professor of school psychology at Fairfield, something told her, “This call’s for me.”

“Fairfield was the right fit for me,” said Dr. Siegel, “and it’s turned out to be a place of great professional and personal growth and opportunity. And I feel now I’m in the privileged position to not only support our students but to look across our faculty and ask ‘How can it be a place of professional growth and opportunity for you? Because it has been for me.’”

Having worked with students a broad spectrum of life stages – from 5-year-olds just starting elementary school through adult learners returning to the college classroom for career transitions — Dr. Siegel sees learning as a lifelong project, “and what we get here at college is just a piece.”

“My whole career has been in education,” Dr. Siegel noted. “So, the questions of ‘What is learning and how does it occur?’ and ‘What are we trying to do with this project we call education?’ have been foremost threads.”

Seeking answers to these questions has informed her ideas about the goals of education which she described as “to help people develop the talents and abilities they have, in ways that contribute to their own life, and in ways that help them become positive and contributing members of our community.”

A Unique “Fairfield” Core

As Fairfield’s chief academic officer, one of Dr. Siegel’s first accomplishments has been to oversee a project that was four years in the making: a new 45-credit core curriculum has received faculty approval and will begin implementation in 2019.

“This move comes as we fully embrace what it means to be a master’s comprehensive university that absolutely has at its center a humanistic liberal arts tradition and curriculum, but that is also expansive in including professional preparation and preparation in the major,” explained Dr. Siegel.

The new 45-credit core is enhanced by three signature curricular elements: (1) writing, (2) interdisciplinary experiences, and (3) education toward a social justice orientation. Together, Dr. Siegel said, these elements combine to make the core requirement a more focused and integrated educational experience that is truly unique to Fairfield.

This major overhaul of Fairfield’s core curriculum marks the first since 1979.

“It will have been 40 years — from 1979 to 2019 — since we’ve had a major revision to the core. So, it seems like about every 35 to 40 years, we manage to get this done,” Dr. Siegel joked, but then added, “We’re hoping this new core is not ‘a 40-year core,’ but one that is continually evolving and continually assessed for its impact on our students.”

“The core revision has been a really interesting professional experience for me,” shared Dr. Siegel, “I started work on it before I was vice provost and I’ve carried it through to provost. I am thrilled to see it come to fruition.”

The Way Forward

As vice provost, Dr. Siegel played an important role in shaping the University’s strategic plan, “Fairfield 2020: The Way Forward.”

“Part of our goal with strategic planning was to really actualize what it means to be a master’s comprehensive university,” she explained, “and that means to have a full slate of graduate and continuing ed programs that complement our undergraduate educational experiences.”

She noted that educating undergraduates the way Fairfield does is an important educational project, but also an expensive one and that by growing Fairfield’s graduate, continuing education, and professional studies programs, the University is able to serve a broader community of learners while also bringing in different sources of revenue.

According to Dr. Siegel, adult learners are increasingly interested in ‘stackable’ credentials: 9- to 12-credit certificate programs that enhance a specific professional skill set. It’s a way for students to boost their resumes and get a feel for graduate coursework, without having to fully commit to a 30- or 45-credit master’s degree program.

At the end of a certificate program, some students feel they’ve strengthened their skills in a particular area, and that’s all they want or need at the moment. Others go on to complete a second certificate program, realize they’re halfway to a master’s degree, and decide to keep going. By stacking together certificate programs, the goal of a master’s degree — at a pace determined by the student — becomes more attainable.

“All of this is really a challenge to the traditional way of offering education that we think about here at Fairfield” admitted Dr. Siegel, “but we’ve made some really good strides with it, and a big part of that is because in the fall we brought on a vice provost for continuing and professional studies, Walter Rankin from Georgetown University.

Under Dr. Rankin’s guidance, six new programs have been submitted for regional accreditation and approval from the Connecticut State Office of Higher Education. The following will be offered in Fall 2018: a master’s degree in educational technology; and certificates in information (cyber) security, business essentials, nursing informatics, creative writing, and a stackable certificate in educational technology leadership.

As new programs are developed at the University, Dr. Siegel said great attention is being paid to address concerns about the impact of online learning to Fairfield’s strong sense of community. “What seems to be a niche for us are hybrid programs: courses that involve online components — maybe even the majority online — but that also present opportunities for collaboration on campus.”

Fairfield’s current MFA program in creative writing is an example of a successful hybrid model.

The new certificate in creative writing will expand on this success by allowing students to take a set of credits to develop a writing skill set. For some, that will be all they want, but for others it could start them on the road to a full MFA degree — the benefits and opportunities are open to both types of adult learner.

Mutual Respect

Emily Orlando, PhD, associate professor of English at Fairfield University, summed up Dr. Siegel’s appointment to lead the Office of the Provost, “As provost, Dr. Christine Siegel brings to Fairfield University a deep knowledge of and love for the institution, a genuine respect for the Jesuit mission, a fierce commitment to social justice, and first-hand experience in the job itself.”

She continued: “Her research and teaching in educational psychology has, I think, enabled her to effectively interface with many different constituencies and win their regard and esteem. It is a joy to see someone so in her element.”

For Dr. Siegel, the admiration is mutual. “I think of professors who started at Fairfield around the time that I started. I’ve seen them grow and advance, be tenured and promoted, win Fulbrights and write books, and do amazing things,” she shared.

Supporting the faculty and staff at Fairfield as they develop in their careers is as much a goal for Dr. Siegel as supporting Fairfield’s students. “Certainly, we’re here for students and students first” she said, “but I think in order for our students to continue learning and growing, our faculty and staff need to be in their own process of growth and development.”

To that end, Dr. Siegel is committed to hiring good people – from deans to support staff – and continuing to develop them.

“Something is happening right in this community,” summed up Dr. Siegel. “Good people come to campus, and in different ways they are allowed to build very long and fulfilled professional lives at Fairfield. I hope to not only maintain that – but enhance it and build on the strength of it – because that’s pretty special.”