Meet LIM College’s New Provost

Provost Lisa SpringerLisa Springer officially became LIM College’s new Provost on June 4, after serving as Associate Dean at the New York University School of Professional Studies. Recently, she answered questions on a wide range of topics, including engaging and connecting with students, the benefits of studying abroad, and an “only in New York” faculty bonding moment.

In deciding to accept your position as Provost, what most appealed to you about LIM College?

When I asked the search committee, during my first interview, to name values at LIM College, they said, without hesitation: focus on students and collaboration, to which I replied: “That’s my dream answer.”

I’ve been impressed by the sense of community at the College and the investment that the people with whom I’ve spoken have in student success. I am also a big believer in experiential learning, which has been the LIM model from a time when the term had yet to be coined.

Fashion is not my area of expertise, but my 14-year-old son, who is obsessed with fashion, has opened up this world for me. Daily he asks me to opine on luxury handbags or cool slides. Like any good teacher, I turn the question back on him and he’s happy to explain the importance of brand, the way lines between art and fashion are blurring, and how we are what we wear. I see the way fashion defines the world and admire the fact that creativity in this area, unlike in other endeavors, so quickly transforms into something practical.

I’m also impressed with the history of LIM and the ways it has adapted to the times. I am myself an entrepreneurial educator, having launched many new initiatives during my career. I’m eager to lend my expertise to both the nurturing of current programs and to expansion in several areas, including new undergraduate and graduate degrees, online programs, and an increased global outlook.

You are coming to LIM from a very different academic environment — that of a very large, multi-school research university. What do you think will be the opportunities (and challenges) in being an academic leader within a more focused institution with a significantly smaller number of students and faculty?

Yes, NYU is a much larger institution, and often difficult to navigate due to its size. For me, being able to know all the faculty at a smaller institution seems like a great luxury. I relish the idea that it will be possible for me to truly get to know the students.

As for the focus on one industry, this too seems to me like an opportunity, as students’ needs can be well served with a focused specialization. The challenge for me will be the field of fashion, which I am keenly interested in but new to. But I’ll be relying on the expertise of my new colleagues, as well as the faculty and students, to help me in this. Be prepared for many questions!

One of your most innovative initiatives at NYU was an online master’s program in Applied Fashion Merchandising. How did creating this program shape your view of the fashion world?

I was fascinated to learn about the many areas involved in fashion merchandising and was impressed by the breadth and depth of the industry. While creating the program, we organized a presentation by a panel of experts on “Sustainability in our Brave New World.” During my work on this program, I became all the more compelled by the importance of sustainability and globalism in fashion.

I was also interested (and pleased) to discover how closely the field of fashion is to art and the humanities. In designing the curriculum, I was struck with how these areas inform one another and realized that, while fashion is new to me, there was much in the world of fashion that I could relate to.

You have been a strong advocate for the inclusion of study abroad components within college degree programs. In your view, what are the most significant benefits of studying in another country? Why is studying abroad particularly important for those learning about the business of fashion?

The world, and the world of fashion in particular, is increasingly global. I’m personally invested in cross-cultural experiences because of my own background. I grew up in the Middle East and attended French schools. From a young age, I was exposed to other cultures. In fact, American culture was, when I was younger, foreign to me. I learned to adapt, be flexible, and understand that there is no one way to approach a problem.

I’m a strong believer in study abroad because of the transformative impact of seeing firsthand the art, culture and style of a different place. I remember how thrilled my younger sisters were when we visited Rome at Christmastime and there were red bows on the trees rather than lights. It’s a small difference, but can open up ways of thinking about a holiday and the definition of an ornament.

Throughout your career, you have been very engaged in outreach to international students. What can international students bring to the LIM community? Do you see additional opportunities for nurturing the international student community at LIM?

I’ve taught hundreds of international students during my career. A recurring theme in their experience in the U.S. is that Americans, while super-friendly, are hard to get to know. In a survey we undertook at the NYU School of Professional Studies recently, over 90% of international students wished for more interaction with Americans.

The presence of international students at LIM provides us with a great opportunity. I recognize that interaction across cultures can be awkward, and even challenging, but I have many ideas for ways that American and international students can enhance each other’s educational experience. One is to globalize the curriculum, by, for example, using case studies from other countries in classes. This at once prepares domestic students for careers that have a global component and gives international students a chance to share their knowledge.

It’s been reported that many who teach at institutions of higher education feel that today’s college students lack basic writing skills. What are your thoughts on this subject?

Academics have always bemoaned the lack of preparation of their students. It seems to be part of our job. Is it true that students lack basic writing skills? I focus less on this question and more on a few others: What specific skills do students need to succeed, both in an academic and a professional environment? What skills do they already have? And my goal is to always meet students where they are, providing them with skills that will immediately help them achieve their academic and professional goals.

I believe in a model which incorporates the study of writing along with content. I don’t think it’s useful to say that students aren’t prepared and stop the process of learning until they become prepared.

In recent years, advances in technology have had an enormous impact on higher education. From your perspective as both an educator and an administrator, what have been the most significant changes?

I was first exposed to the wonders of distance learning while working with a group of students in a scholarship program run through NYU Abu Dhabi. The students, all of whom were studying at the national universities in the United Arab Emirates, had classes every few weeks with the President and the Deputy President of NYU, who flew in to teach them.

My course, Critical Thinking and Persuasive Writing, was blended, with a few onsite sessions, with the rest of the learning taking place online. The students saw each other every few weeks, but it was in my class that they interacted daily, sharing concerns about the challenges in their other classes and creating a community of learners.

I was impressed with the way distance learning can create closeness and give opportunity for shy students, or those who need more time, to formulate thoughts to participate. Our discussions, slowed down by the fact that they were written and took place over several days, were both intimate and thoughtful. I came to distance teaching reluctantly but was an instant convert.

In addition to enabling blended and online learning, advances in technology have given students access to resources and information they never had before. This makes it all the more imperative that classroom experiences go beyond the dissemination and accumulation of knowledge and become places where students engage in applying this knowledge.

How would you describe your approach when working with faculty and staff members? Are there any leadership principles that particularly resonate with you?

I keep in mind the importance of being at once confident and humble. Confidence allows me to embark on new ventures, to be curious, and to make decisions, both small and large. Confidence also, interestingly, allows me to be humble, which I believe is even more key to success in leadership roles. Humility reminds me to rely on others’ expertise regularly, to admit when I make mistakes, to be willing to change course, and to understand that all successes are the result of a collaborative effort.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

My partner Liz and I have two children, a 14-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl. They force me away from my computer and work on a regular basis. We live in Manhattan and like to go out to dinner, to movies, to museums, and biking along the Hudson River.

I also love to write, and I read to inform both my writing and my work as an educator. I love water — swimming in it, watching it. When I have time, I go to the gym. And I enjoy traveling and engaging with other cultures, which I have recently done principally in connection to work, in Abu Dhabi, an area of the world I know well, and in Shanghai and Tokyo, parts of the world that I am still discovering.

You’re currently working on a novel. Can you tell us about it?

After several years of not writing, I have recently returned to it. My novel, which takes place in an academic setting, is about a relationship between a mother and daughter. Writing is a vital part of my life. Even when I do it for a very short period of time (for example, a 10 or 15 minute spurt in the evening), it connects me to a different part of my brain.

While it’s demanding work, it still relaxes me and gives me perspective, a way of understanding life. I have always considered it the research component of my academic career. It was a great complement to teaching when I was in the classroom and is now the same in my administrative life.

If you had not become an educator / higher ed administrator, what career path would you have chosen?

I would have chosen to be a therapist. I’m fascinated by people’s stories, the problems they face, the successes they achieve. I’m a great admirer of human resilience and courage. I was a psychology major in college and planned a career in counseling. I ended up, instead, choosing to channel my love of stories into writing. It was actually by chance that I became an administrator, which is, in fact, a true calling. I am the rare academic who loves administration and leadership. And, in truth, my interest in listening and learning and my focus on solving problems has served me well in my various roles as an administrator.

Everyone who’s lived in New York City has an “only in New York” story (or several). What’s one of yours?

Leaving Carnegie Hall after Commencement in May (where students’ enthusiastic support of one another was a wonderful introduction to LIM College), I ran into several faculty members hurrying to make their train at Penn Station. I was heading to the same subway and so joined them. No sooner were we on the train than someone realized we were at the back of the train when they needed to be at the front. At each stop, as a group, we left our car and ran to the one ahead of it, getting closer by three cars to the right exit at Penn Station. At one point, one of the faculty members said, “You’re going to have fun with us!” It was a nice bonding moment and one that could only have happened in New York, where we live so much closer to one another than in other parts of the country, running to our destinations, helping each other get there.