On May 12, Dr. Susan Hansen stepped into the role of interim dean for the Division of Professional Studies, which together is comprised of Continuing, Distance, and Online Graduate offerings. Previously, Hansen served as the associate vice chancellor of Academic Affairs at UW-Platteville, among other leadership roles. The following conversation details the new dean’s thoughts on higher education, leadership, the nature of change and distance learning.
You first joined UW-Platteville in 1991. Since that time, you’ve worked as a professor, the director for the School of Business, the interim dean of BILSA, and as the associate vice chancellor of Academic Affairs. How has your experience shaped you as a leader, and how has it helped you prepare for the responsibilities you’ll be undertaking as part of the Division of Professional Studies?
When it comes to leadership, experience is a great teacher. In all the positions I’ve held, I’ve learned that listening, empathy, and directness are essential to leading a unit. Every position has its challenges, whether those challenges come from external forces, like a COVID-19 disruption or budget cuts, or internal situations, such as resolving controversies between units. Challenges often signal that a change is needed. When meeting a challenge, listening helps to paint the scope of the challenge, empathy provides acknowledgement that change is difficult, and directness provides focus to the solution.
What direction would you like to see the division go in? What are your priorities over the next few months?
In my office there’s a plaque that reads, “See the Possibilities.” That plaque has followed me to every leadership opportunity I’ve had at Platteville. COVID-19 has forced all faculty and staff and all students to adapt to distance learning modalities. As the campus prepares for fall, we know that distance learning will still have a significant role to play. I believe out of this experience we will see our campus faculty and programs begin to “see the possibilities” for distance education. My priority for the coming months is to more fully explore those possibilities.
How do you like to encourage ideas in your faculty or the student body?
The flow of ideas comes from a vision. As I get to know each of you in the Division for Professional Studies, I hope to hear about your vision and ideas. Open conversation is welcomed! My door is always open and I always have time to listen.
What do you enjoy about working in higher education in general, and at UW-Platteville specifically?
I have always loved learning; I am a life-long learner so higher education is a natural fit for me. I want to share that love of learning with others. I have appreciated UW-Platteville because it’s large enough to provide a variety of opportunities, but small enough to create relationships with students, advisees, and fellow faculty and staff. I have come to love our campus and enjoy the working relationships built over the years. In every change this campus has gone through since 1991, the one consistent thread is that people really care about this place. They want to do their jobs well. Regardless of position – faculty, staff, janitor, provost – people want to make a difference here.
All three departments comprising the DPS deliver online classes in some capacity, which together cover a broad range of topics. As the new dean of all three departments, what is your opinion on the relationship between technology and education?
I think COVID-19 answers this question. Technology in education is here to stay. There are lots of innovative ways technology is being used in the classroom, whether that classroom is virtual or physical. I appreciate the many ways technology can help us engage students in learning. In the coming months, this campus will continue to explore the connections between learning and the use of technology.
What is one thing people should know about you as a professional? As a person?
As a professional, I hope that people understand that I want everyone to find joy in their work. I can’t do that for you, but I do want to help you reach your goals. Now that I’m closer to the end of my career than to the beginning, I can truly say there is no greater gift in one’s professional life than to get up each morning and want to come to work. I want to come to work (and I’m finding it difficult to start a new position when I can’t go around and greet everyone in person).
As a person, I enjoy classical music, quilting, my flower garden, and I think the only vegetable worth eating is candy corn.