For some Smith students, the first year at college is a time of enormous adjustment, acclimating to a new lifestyle, new confines, new people and a new set of academic standards and workload.
Guidance is frequently required to help first-year Smith students navigate the many new pathways they venture upon. Often, that is where the college’s first-year dean steps in.
“As class deans, we engage with students on a lot of different levels,” says Jane Stangl, lecturer in exercise and sport studies (ESS), who will become dean of the first-year class next year following the retirement after this year of longtime dean of the first-year class Tom Riddell. “With first-year students you see a lot of change. We advise students to help them find the ways and means to navigate the college’s resources.”
Riddell, who served as first-year dean from 1993 to 1997, then again from 1999 until this year (minus a sabbatical year in 2006-07), also enjoys the diversity of duties on his job. “This position has involved working with all of the different components of the college,” he says. “Admission, financial aid, facilities management, student life, the faculty, athletics, study abroad, health services, not to mention thousands of Smith students.”
Riddell will also retire his positions of associate dean of the college and associate professor of economics. Margaret Bruzelius, dean of the senior/junior class (I-Z), will replace Riddell as associate dean of the college.
Stangl, who served as interim dean of the first-year class in 2006-07 when Riddell was on sabbatical, welcomes the wide range of interactions that comes with the job. With a background in psychology and sociology, as well as extensive experience as a coach, Stangl is comfortable with stepping beyond the boundaries of academic adviser when necessary.
Stangl will relocate her office, from a corner tucked away on the fourth floor of Scott Gym to the complex of class deans’ offices on the first floor of College Hall. Along with first-years adjusting to change, Stangl will be adjusting, too.
A member of the Smith faculty since 1997, Stangl teaches ESS 100, an introduction to sport studies, as well as a course on body images in sport media. She also serves as graduate adviser and teaches sociocultural analysis of sport, and critical thinking and research. In the performance area, she teaches golf.
“I’ll miss my job here in ESS,” she says, “but I do enjoy working with the students, and working in College Hall. I’ve always felt strongly about being a student advocate.”
Most of the first-year dean’s interactions with students take place during open office hours. Stangl says she looks forward to the exposure to students in their first year that comes with her new job. “As a first-year dean, you really learn who the first-year class is.”
Officially, the first-year dean assigns students to faculty advisers and designs and implements student retention initiatives, while taking important roles on administrative committees, such as those overseeing first-year seminars and the writing intensive program, and collaborating with numerous administrative departments. The first-year dean also supervises the volunteer Student Academic Advisors, a group of sophomores and juniors (one from each campus residence) that assist first-year students.
“Our priority is making sure students are making good progress toward their degrees and thinking critically and with perspective about their education at Smith and imagining how it will affect the rest of their lives,” sums up Riddell—no small task, and one that requires many hats, considering all the challenges heaped on a first-year Smith student.
“This is a busy place,” says Stangl of her office-to-be in College Hall. “Eventually, almost every student will need to see a dean for some reason.”