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Berkeleyan

Berkeleyan

 Alix Schwartz (Wendy Edelstein photo)

It's My Job

06 February 2008


In this new semi-regular feature, the Berkeleyan showcases a staff member whose work is essential to the smooth functioning of the campus (or one of its many departments and units). Do you know someone whose job would interest our readers? Send an e-mail to berkeleyan@berkeley.edu with your suggestions.

 

Alix Schwartz
Director of Academic Planning for the Undergraduate Division, College of Letters & Science


What exactly is your job?
My short job description is "make undergraduate education better." If there's a problem affecting undergraduates, I try to solve it.

What does that entail?
I run programs for undergraduates - Freshman Seminars (fss.berkeley.edu), L&S Discovery Courses (lsdiscovery.berkeley.edu), and On the Same Page (onthesamepage.berkeley.edu). I also perform analysis to keep the curriculum running smoothly. For instance, I keep an eye on Reading and Composition and gateway courses, in which student demand can all too easily exceed the supply of seats.

What's your biggest challenge?
Students say they want more faculty contact, but it can be a challenge to entice them to attend a discussion with professors about a book or a reception with an author.

Seems like these programs would be easy sells.
In most cases, we have no problem filling Freshman Seminars. We can turn away as many as 200 students from each of the more popular courses. The Discovery Courses have just hit that magical tipping point when word of mouth takes over, freeing me and my staff to focus on other challenges.

Such as?
Students are increasingly hard to reach. For instance, we find that they don't read e-mail, because that's their parents' technology. They read text messages and Facebook. So you can send out a mass e-mail to students saying we have this great program, and most of them will not read it.

That sounds pretty discouraging.
The further you get from being 18, the harder it is to imagine what it is they're actually thinking and what appeals to them. If my whole job is to make their education better, I need to know who they are.

How do you learn about them?
I encounter students most directly in L&S 1, a course I created for undecided freshmen. The people who teach the discussion sections are professional advisers. I teach them how to teach, meet with them weekly, periodically observe their sections, and read all the student evaluations, so I get a good idea of what today's new students are thinking.

What's the most satisfying part of your job?
I love working with faculty as they're creating a new Discovery Course. These are the best teachers on campus, really brilliant, dedicated people, and they'll stop by my office to discuss what they're thinking about doing. It's very intellectually stimulating to have that direct contact.