Meet the staff: Ian Jackson

This month, meet Ian Jackson, coordinator of student and alumni affairs in the Student and Alumni Affairs Office. Ian is responsible for many of the great alumni events held throughout the year that help bring together current and past students of the Extension School. Below, he shares his thoughts on these events and the Extension School community-at-large.

Photo of Ian Jackson, coordinator of student and alumni affairs at Harvard Extension SchoolWhen I started working at the Extension School almost 2 years ago, I looked at a large part of my job as building bridges between the student community and the alumni community.

Once I settled into my role however, this metaphor didn’t sit well with me, and for a while I couldn’t place my finger on why. More recently, I’ve come to realize that the image of bridges implies that students and alumni are distinct, discrete groups, divided from each other by some kind of distance.

The truth is far from it.

The Extension School is unique within Harvard. Nowhere else is there such a blend of alumni and students. Almost every day I speak to at least one alum who still takes classes or plans on starting a class soon. This is a highlight of my job. The Extension School has become an academic home for so many people, and just like any good home, it is a welcoming place to return to after time away. As Dorothy Gale would tell you, “There’s no place like home…”

My job as the coordinator of alumni and student affairs allows me to meet with the Harvard Extension Student Assocation (HESA) and the Harvard Extension Alumni Association (HEAA) on a regular basis. Both groups put on a broad range of events throughout the year, from academic to social, local to online, intimate get-togethers to large-scale conferences.

To see the overlap between groups and to make new connections between people who may become partners in a new endeavor is a joy for me. But I no longer see it as building bridges. I see it as breaking barriers. I see it as clearing people’s vision; helping students and alumni see the wide array of other people around them. I enjoy helping the students and alumni become aware of the unique talents and skills available in this community, not limited to just HESA or the HEAA, but the Harvard Extension School.

Helping them also to see themselves not as isolated within a “different” part of Harvard, but to see themselves as fully-fledged, valued members of Harvard University is an exciting aspect of my job. And even, occasionally, to help alumni realize that they have the ability to click together their heels, and follow Dorothy in saying “There’s no place like home…”

To me, this is a lot more exciting than building bridges.

September 21, 2011. Tags: , , , . Meet the staff. Leave a comment.

Meet the staff: Lauren Barret

This month, meet Lauren, who works as an assistant editor to the associate dean of academic administration at the Extension School. She helps to make sure all the fabulous courses you see each year are up to date by liaising with the faculty to get the necessary details like course descriptions and syllabi. Below she shares insights she’s gained from her time working here and taking classes.

A photo of Lauren Barret, who works at the Harvard Extension School.The interesting thing about the Extension School is that while our students are often spread out all over the world (from New England to California to the Middle East) and our instructors come from all over the University (as well as neighboring institutions and the local community), we ourselves are a pretty close-knit, compact unit.

With few exceptions, all our administrative offices are here at 51 Brattle. If I need to ask the Registrar (or as I like to call her, Brenda) a question, or accompany a teaching assistant to our payroll department (also known as Ann, Christine, and Jeanette) to resolve a problem, it’s never more than a couple of flights of stairs away.

When I first started working here, my boss described the Extension School as a small liberal arts college within a large university, and that is how it feels.  Many people have been here for years, if not decades, and thus there’s a real sense of community. (And many of our instructors have been teaching here for as long.) It’s a fun place to work.

In my job, I work mostly with faculty, and so it’s always fun to take one of their classes and see them in their natural element. My favorite thus far has been Bruce Watson’s intro economics course.  I was a humanities major in college and have developed a rather silly postgraduate fear of math, so I was a bit apprehensive about taking it. But I loved it.

Bruce is a terribly nice and engaging guy, and he makes the material very accessible. His pop culture references are charmingly dated (he’s still using Britney and Christina, instead of Bieber and Miley, and I swear he mentioned Carrot Top once), and sitting in lecture (or watching it online) feels less like class and more like having a really smart friend explain deadweight loss to you.

Part of my motivation for taking the class was to make sense of what had happened as the repercussions of the 2009 financial crisis were still casting a shadow over the world economy. And while it did not directly address credit-default swaps or mortgage-backed securities (it wasn’t a finance class, after all), it did give me a solid foundation for understanding a lot of what I was reading in the news.

July 20, 2011. Meet the staff. Leave a comment.

A quick goodbye

As the editor and writer of this blog, I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with many of the Extension School’s finest students, faculty, and staff members. And it’s not without a little sadness that I write today’s post to tell you that I’m leaving Harvard Division of Continuing Education for the warmer climes of North Carolina.

In my place is the wonderful and adept editor Leslie, who will be managing the blog and organizing the contributions to it. If you have a story idea or want to share some feedback on the blog, just shoot her an e-mail.

Many thanks to everyone I’ve met through this blog and elsewhere, and to everyone I’ve worked with for the last 3 amazing years.

Before I go, I wanted to highlight some of the favorite posts that have been up on the Spark since its creation. These are the ones I’ve noticed you visit again and again, and others that have stuck with me long after the conversations ended.

From our students:

From our faculty:

From our staff:

July 13, 2011. Meet the staff. Leave a comment.

Meet the staff: Rory Stein

This month I want to introduce you to Rory Stein, the wonderfully kind and knowledgeable coordinator of disability support services for the Extension School (and Harvard Summer School). Rory’s office is on the 5th floor in Academic Services.

Below he answered my questions about why he does what he does, and what he wants students to know.

What brought you to the Extension School?

I taught writing and introductory American literature courses at MassBay and Middlesex Community Colleges. Since I was teaching part time, I started working with students with learning disabilities at Mount Ida College as a learning specialist in order to supplement my income. Ultimately, I found that work more rewarding and gratifying than teaching and became the coordinator of disability services at the Boston Architectural College before coming here. I’ve been here for almost 3 years now.

Describe a bit about what you do.

As the coordinator of disability support services, it’s first and foremost my job to make sure all courses at the Extension School are accessible to students with disabilities. For example, a few of my responsibilities entail making sure our classrooms are wheelchair accessible for students with physical disabilities, coordinating closed-captioning for students with hearing impairments, converting textbooks into audiobooks for students with sight impairments or blindness, and working to get students with learning disabilities and ADHD extended time on in-class exams or assistance with note-taking.

What I like most about my job is seeing students with disabilities persevere in the face of adversity and to witness the tremendous energy and commitment they bring to their course work.

Like most of our students, they have family obligations and full-time jobs in addition to their academic load. And there’s the fact that due to the learning difference with which they have been diagnosed, it takes many of them longer to complete writing assignments or projects or to prepare for a midterm or final exam. It’s inspiring for me to see what they are able to accomplish.

What keeps you coming in to work every day?

I think it’s the awareness that I am at least playing some part in a student’s academic success, and through my interactions with professors and TFs, I have an opportunity to increase awareness about certain disabilities and to promote a more in-depth understanding.

What is 1 thing you wish students knew before they come to talk to you?

It’s important for students to know their rights and responsibilities as college students with disabilities and how that differs from high school.

For instance, the largest difference between the two is that special education departments in high school are responsible for identifying and diagnosing students and then designing and implementing what’s called an IEP (individualized education plan), which is comprised of certain modifications and accommodations based on a student’s diagnosis (supported by school-funded neuropsychological and psycho-educational exams) and which must be in compliance with disability law specific to high school.

At the college level, it’s the students’ responsibility to come forward and disclose their disability and to provide documentation in support of it, which for students with learning disabilities and ADHD consists of the results of the neuropsychological testing they took in high school.

In short, students need to advocate for themselves. They should be aware of how their learning disorder affects the manner in which they learn, how to capitalize on their learning strengths, and find ways to circumvent their weaknesses. While this is important for any college student, it’s crucial for students with disabilities.

April 20, 2011. Meet the staff. 1 comment.

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