Over the summer the University hired several new faculty members in different administrative departments. These hires included former Interim Chief Information Officer of Colgate University David Baird as current Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer, former Assistant Director of Student Life/Student Conduct Scott Backer as current Interim Associate Dean of Academic Resources, and former Associate Vice President of External Relations Gemma Fontanella Ebstein as current Interim Director of the Career Center.
Backer, Baird, and Ebstein all began working in their new positions in early August. Backer and Ebstein will hold their interim positions for approximately one academic year, at which time search committees will find other people to fill these positions on a long-term basis.
Baird appeared enthusiastic about Wesleyan and his new position.
“I’m quite excited about this opportunity,” Baird said. “From the moment I started the interview process, Wesleyan really appealed to my personal value system in terms of liberal arts education and interdisciplinary study, [as well as the] commitment to all of its values like social responsibility and giving back to the community. So I really like the philosophy of Wesleyan as a place.”
Baird has stated that he envisions the Information Technology Services (ITS) Department functioning primarily as a support system for the rest of the University.
“Our role is to support the mission of the institution,” Baird said. “When you look at Wesleyan’s 2020 plan, our job is to look to those overarching goals and make sure we’re supporting what’s being done here.”
To cite just one example of ITS’s recent changes under Baird, the department implemented a pilot program over the summer to improve wireless internet access.
Baird said that approximately twenty different houses on Fountain Avenue are participating in the program. Given previous complaints about wireless internet access on campus, ITS considered this task an important undertaking.
“I know there are some challenges with providing high speed wireless internet access to places like the woodframe houses,” Baird said. “We hope to get five times the bandwidth from this than we get from the AT&T system that currently exists in the houses. We’re using this as a pilot project, and if it’s successful we’ll implement it in the other houses.”
Baird also speculated about the possibility of an online curriculum at Wesleyan, which he said had previously been discussed by senior administrators. Though there are no current plans to provide online classes at the University, Baird was excited about the possibility.
“Exploration of online learning is something that’s exploding right now in higher education,” Baird said. “Most of the major players in this have been the big institutions such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford. One of the really interesting questions right now is what role small liberal arts colleges [will] play in influencing what goes on with online curriculum.”
Unlike Baird, both Backer and Ebstein worked at the University prior to their new appointments. Ebstein was asked to take on additional responsibilities for this academic year as the Interim Director of the Career Center after the former director Michael Sciola left to take a job at Colgate University.
“I’ve actually overseen the Career Center for three years and Mike Sciola was reporting to me, so I’ve been involved with the Career Center [and] this is not totally out of the blue,” Ebstein said. “I’ve worked with the Career Center on their move [to 41 Wyllys Avenue].”
Ebstein said that Sciola got a wonderful opportunity to go elsewhere, and Vice President for University Relations Barbara-Jan Wilson and President Michael Roth asked her if she would fill the Interim Director role while the University conducts a national search for the new Career Center Director.
According to Ebstein, the Career Center will determine their areas of focus based on the needs of the student body. In particular, she hopes to be able to make the Career Center more accessible to students by hiring more counseling staff. She said this would potentially allow students to have more immediate appointments with the Career Center, whereas previously students waited up to three weeks to meet with a counselor.
“Our primary goal right now is to be able to respond best to student concerns and needs,” Ebstein said. “Requests for counseling appointments went up exponentially when we moved to a centralized location. So we’re doing some internal shifting around of how we handle appointments and redeploying staff, so more are available and people don’t have to wait as long for an appointment.”
On the Student Affairs side, Scott Backer was appointed Interim Associate Dean of Academic Resources after Sarah Lazare left the position to take a job at Westfield State University.
“I’m excited about it,” Backer said. “It’s a real opportunity to work with students in a different way and to help students through pretty challenging situations and quite rewarding to see how students work through some pretty significant obstacles.”
Backer stated that he had no plans to make any radical changes or adopt any new initiatives as Interim Associate Dean. Instead, he hopes to follow Lazare’s example of working to best provide eligible students with the necessary accommodations.
“Dean Lazare had an efficient way of working through a lot of information, so I don’t intend to make any significant changes,” Backer said. “Right now we’re working with the students to try to make sure that all of the reasonable accommodations that they’re eligible for are well documented and communicated effectively to their instructors so that they’re able to be successful in the classrooms.”
Because of Sciola and Lazare’s sudden departures over the summer, the University had to fill their positions quickly, with little student involvement in the process.
“I think it’s always hard to get student input over the summer,” said Wesleyan Student Assembly Student Affairs Committee Chair Nicole Updegrove ’14. “With these interim positions, you’re hiring already well established administrators [and] shuffling can happen without student input.”