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Meet Seven Faculty Helping to Run the University This Year

February 29, 2016

2016 Provost Fellows:  Cameron Abrams,  Ulrike Altenmüller-Lewis, Bret Asbury, Aroutis Foster, Timothy Kurzweg, Jason Silverman and Mitra Taheri

2016 Provost Fellows: Cameron Abrams of the College of Engineering, Ulrike Altenmüller-Lewis of Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, Bret Asbury of the Kline School of Law, Aroutis Foster of the School of Education, Timothy Kurzweg of the College of Engineering, Jason Silverman of the School of Education,  Mitra Taheri of the College of Engineering.

It’s a happy problem when you invite people to come collaborate with you and too many apply.

When Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs M. Brian Blake, PhD, reactivated the Provost Fellow’s program this year, he received 22 applications for just four slots — so he expanded the program to seven.

“It’s really gratifying to see the response,” said Blake. “There was great quality of the submissions, with great diversity across the institution and within individual backgrounds.”

Provost fellows are high-caliber academics who spend one year collaborating with administrators on special projects of importance to the University. In exchange, fellows receive a reduced teaching load.

This year’s fellows will be busy. Several are working on ways to help faculty compete for large funding opportunities, improve the administration’s support for research faculty and better manage core research facilities. Others are exploring a pre-co-op for students who enroll in winter, new online study modules and improved teacher assistant training. See the full list of fellows here.

“I was really excited when I saw the call [to apply],” said Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Timothy Kurzweg, PhD, who will be investigating ways to keep students away on co-op engaged in learning through online study modules.

“I remembered seeing Provost Blake speak at convocation and I turned to a colleague and said, ‘You know, I could really work for this guy.’ And I personally had been looking for a new challenge,” Kurzweg said.

“I think to be a complete scholar you have to test the waters to see if administration is for you,” said Aroutis Foster, PhD, an associate professor in the School of Education. Foster will be gathering information that can be used to build a better research infrastructure.

“We’ll be better off in terms of how colleges support research,” Foster predicted. “I’m a faculty member so I know it could be better. Based on where I am I have a pretty good view of faculty needs, administration needs and finding a middle ground.”

School of Education Associate Professor Jason Silverman, PhD, has been working on a report on the state of professional development for doctoral students and ways to improve teaching assistant training.

“One interesting trend is that more and more doctoral students are choosing to go into industry instead of the traditional academic track, and we can do more at Drexel to support students interested in careers outside of academia,” said Silverman. 

Drexel’s Provost Fellows program began 12 years ago and has since operated off and on as needed. From the start, lasting initiatives have come out of the fellows’ work.

The first program established by a fellow was the Tuition Exchange program, which allows children of faculty and staff to attend over 600 other universities on a reciprocal scholarship — an attractive program when recruiting faculty.

The exchange program was set up by English Professor Doreen Alvarez Saar, PhD, after she was coaxed by then-interim-provost Ali Houshmand to serve as Drexel’s first fellow in 2004.

“I was skeptical about the fellows program, actually,” Saar recalled. At that time, she was chair of the Faculty Senate Committee on Budget, Planning and Development. 

“I was a very strong advocate for faculty governance and the senate and for women’s faculty, and I had a leery view of the administration,” she said. “I think my activity during that year helped to convince the administration that this was a way to engage faculty and bring in faculty viewpoints. I came away with a new respect for the difficulties faced in running a university.”

Lately, the Provost Fellows program has been fallow while the University searched for a permanent provost. Blake, who had previous experience with similar programs, moved quickly to revive it.

“These are wonderful programs,” he said. “The faculty support is not particularly expensive, but it’s valuable, and long-term this is how we can build our leaders from within.”

Blake counts himself a successful product of such programs.

“When I established the LeadershipU program at the University of Miami, the provost said, ‘Do you think these can be effective?’ And since I had already co-founded the NDLead program at Notre Dame, I said, ‘Well, you know sometimes they have a way of being too effective.’ And he was so quick; he said, ‘You mean because you left Notre Dame?’”

“So I know these programs work,” Blake laughed. “You build leaders and they become attractive to the outside, too. But we want to develop our own from within and make them the very best that they can be.  Of course, keeping them at Drexel is our first priority.

Faculty curious about a career in administration are able to work alongside administrators and decide if the work is right for them — and administrators get to check them out, as well.

Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Janet Fleetwood, PhD, got her start in the provost’s office after serving as a fellow under then-Provost Stephen Director. When her project, which related to advancing women in STEM fields across several colleges in the University, evolved into the Office of Faculty Development and Equity (now folded into Drexel’s Office of Faculty Affairs), Director hired Fleetwood to lead it.

“There was no Drexel office specifically looking at diversity or women in academics or equity before then,” said Fleetwood.

Now on the administrative side, Fleetwood is collaborating with provost fellow Ulrike Altenmüller-Lewis, Dr.-Ing, associate professor in the Department of Architecture & Interiors.

Together they plan to develop a University-wide program for faculty mentoring for new and established faculty at all ranks.

Like most of the fellows, Altenmüller-Lewis applied to the program with an eye to joining administration some day. But her selection also pleased colleagues in her college and department, she said.

“I was surprised by how many positive responses I got,” she said. “People said this is a great opportunity not only for me, but for the college.

“When we had the first meeting [of provost fellows] I was very surprised about the atmosphere and the openness,” she said. “I really have a feeling it could be a very valuable two-way street.”