Four new academic directors serve undergraduate population

Sept. 17, 2013, 4:40 a.m.

In an effort to address the demands of a growing undergraduate population, Undergraduate Advising and Research hired four new academic directors this past spring.

The 2012-13 school year revealed a 25-percent increase in scheduled and drop-in appointments with academic directors over the last four years, according to Kirsti Copeland, associate dean of residential and pre-major advising.

Copeland explained in a statement that a single academic director piloted the residential advising program nine years ago in Wilbur Hall. Since then the program expanded its initial focus on freshmen to the entire undergraduate student population with 10 academic directors serving this year.

“We know that the program’s working, and we also know the largest frustration with the program is people wanting more of it,” Copeland said.

Two of the four new academic directors are taking on newly established positions while the other two will fill in for the outgoing academic directors of Wilbur and Stern Halls.

The new hires come from diverse backgrounds with various areas of expertise. Here’s a glimpse of what they have to offer:

Courtesy of Vikram Prasad.
Courtesy of Vikram Prasad.

Katie Wang

Coming from a postdoctoral program in biochemistry at UC-San Francisco, Katie Wang said she was very excited to meet her students in Roble Hall. Wang advised undergraduate students in her lab at UCSF and also taught a course in macrobiology at the UC-Berkeley extension campus.

“The combination of mentoring in a lab and teaching in the classroom made me realize that I love working with students,” Wang said.

However, Wang is not only interested in advising students but also wants to “hear their stories.”

“As an instructor I developed some really special relationships with some of my students,” she said. “It’s incredible to me what students are willing to share with me about what’s going on in their own lives.”

Though Wang is ready to direct students to needed resources in all areas of study, her background in the sciences will prove beneficial for particular concerns. Her expertise includes advising students on how to write fellowship applications for grants and helping students find research positions.

Wang, and fellow newcomer Raymond Chen, provide an academic background that, according to Copeland, has been underrepresented among academic directors in the past. But out of this year’s nine academic directors with Ph.D.s, three have degrees in the sciences, two in social sciences and four in the humanities and arts.

Copeland added that while diversifying academic backgrounds is beneficial, what matters most is an academic director’s interaction with students across the curriculum—something for which Wang already has a plan.

“My philosophy is kind of to just talk about it with them and help them think about it from a different perspective,” Wang said.

Courtesy of Vikram Prasad.
Courtesy of Vikram Prasad.

Raymond Chen

Chen, also a biochemistry expert, completed a postdoctoral program in his field at the Stanford School of Medicine in 2012. Chen also worked as a postdoctoral research assistant the year before he signed on as an academic director last May.

But, before that, he taught a course in cell biology at Berkeley.

“I’ve been really interested in educational aspects of things and in the lab there are a lot of opportunities for mentoring students of all levels,” Chen said.

Chen will be advising freshman in the Wilbur Hall residences—Otero, Rinconada, Soto and Trancos—as well as undergraduate students in Munger, Rains and Escondido Village.

Chen received several eager advising questions in response to an introductory email he and his colleagues sent out to students on Aug. 20. His background in the sciences has already proven helpful when he had a productive conversation with a student who was deciding between various science majors.

“We were able to talk…and look at other directions and ways of coordinating her studies that she didn’t really think about,” he said.

Looking forward to the opportunity to work with energetic students, Chen said he wants to make sure his students know that he is there for them academically.

“It’s a really exciting time for students and for me to be able to be part of that and to have a chance to help is really rewarding,” Chen said.

Courtesy of C. Schmidt.
Courtesy of C. Schmidt.

Lara Tohme

Lara Tohme, who will serve as academic director for Stern Hall, comes from an entirely different background. Originally from Lebanon, Tohme speaks four languages—Arabic, English, Italian and French—and has a background in art history.

She has had nearly 10 years of teaching experience in her field at universities that include Wellesley College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she also received her Ph.D. in the history of architecture.

“My greatest pleasure was working with students directly and mentoring them and advising them,” Tohme said of her teaching experience.

Tohme has been settling into her new job for over a month, corresponding with more than 100 students over email so far. Thanks to her experience working with a diverse student body, Tohme believes that she can offer a unique perspective on the academic director role and her interest in interdisciplinary studies will also prove to be useful.

“I have a good understanding of how different fields work together,” Tohme said.

That expertise could come in handy when advising students in Burbank, the Stern Hall residence that will house students in the science-humanities crossover in-residence program, SIMILE.

While Tohme is still learning the ropes at Stanford, she said her biggest priority right now is to make sure that she is serving her students in the way that they need to be served and want to be served.

“I’m just really excited to be a part of this very vibrant community and to really get to know the diversity that is at Stanford,” Tohme said.

Courtesy of Mitchell Stevens.
Courtesy of Mitchell Stevens.

Arik Lifschitz

Arik Lifschitz, the academic director for FroSoCo, Potter and Robinson, is more familiar with working on the Farm, serving as a consulting assistant professor in the Management Science and Engineering Department for the past four years.

Israeli-born Lifschitz moved to the United States in 2001 and completed a Ph.D. program in Management at Columbia University. He has also served in a variety of faculty positions at a few universities, including University of the People, a tuition-free online institution.

In his past work, Lifschitz felt that one-on-one interactions with students were most rewarding and stated he is ready to help students connect with faculty and enhance their Stanford education broadly—beyond just choosing courses and a major.

“I’m looking forward to helping people find their purpose in education and to navigate though the great opportunities and the challenges that a place like Stanford has,” Lifschitz said.

Nevertheless, he made it clear that he would not take a direct approach when advising students.

“I’m here to give them suggestions and also hold a mirror in front of them and help them figure out for themselves what’s going to be the best pathway,” he said. “I just try to truly understand the issues and also find the best solutions.”

Lifschitz commented that he is most excited about working with the students and seeing how they develop over the years.

“People come here, they create hopes and plans,” he said, “and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to help them pursue them.”

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