As the new Dean of Students at Ross Upper School, Lisa Collins is dedicated to providing students with guidance and support throughout their time at Ross to help them achieve academic and personal success. Lisa recently talked with School News about the professional and life experiences she brings to her role at Ross.
Describe your role at Ross. As Dean of Students, I work closely with the students to make sure they are adhering to the rules to help maintain a safe and productive environment for their learning. As with any large school community, there will be times when a discussion about a specific activity or behavior, such as skipping class, becomes necessary. But it’s not always about dispensing discipline. I really try to engage students to understand the motivation behind the action. For example, if students are frequently forgetting their slippers, perhaps they are not getting enough sleep or their minds are consumed with something outside of school. We have support programs in place to help them manage through difficult situations and get back on the right path.
Usually when we talk with the students, they quickly see why certain rules are in place. At the end of the day, it’s about keeping them safe. And their well-being is my top priority.
What are your main areas of focus? An ultimate goal is to help students live the Ross Core Values so that they thrive and contribute to a diverse, safe, and fun community experience. The Advising Program at the Upper School is an important part of the process. Through that program, every student is assigned a faculty member who is personally responsible for helping the student with coursework, including helping them understand content, manage their projects, and complete assignments. The faculty member also serves as a liaison between the administration and the student, a mentor, and a provider of emotional support.
To maximize the success of the program, I developed a curriculum for advisors to follow. It provides a structure that hopefully will make the experience more productive. In the new year, each student will receive themed advising, such as explaining the Ross Core Values and how to incorporate them into their life experiences, group sessions, and scheduled one-on-one time for students and advisors.
How does your department benefit the Ross community? This is definitely a team effort, and I work closely with our very talented Residential Life team, student counselors, and teachers to be aware of what’s happening in the lives of our students and provide the critical caring and support children need along their path to maturity.
As the School continues to grow, it’s important to maintain discipline and structure and nurture the mental and physical health of our students.
What can we expect from your department in the first months of school? We’ll pay close attention to how the Advising Program is working. It’s a great support resource for the students, but as with any large undertaking, we will likely have to make tweaks to maximize its positive impact.
I’m also developing the process and policies to deal with disciplinary violations in a fair, balanced, and consistent manner.
How has your past experience prepared you for your role at Ross? I’m a trained archaeologist, and I spent years in the field researching significant and historic explorations, including the Maya in Honduras. At Harvard, where I received a PhD in archaeology, and Yale, I also was very involved in managing residential life and student programs.
I also ran a residential dorm at a boarding high school in Boston for ESOL students, with the majority coming from China and Brazil, and spent many years living in Mexico, where I taught English and managed the English departments at academic institutions.
Basically, I spent years developing administrative, creative, and communications skills around the world. I know those skills will be a huge help to me as we build programs to help engage our students, parents, and the extended community.
Tell us something about yourself that others may not know. Our recent Summer Academy and its focus on sustainability hit close to home for me. I’m currently involved with a company spearheading sustainable projects in poor, rural regions in Mexico, and we will soon deliver affordable filters that can be used to clean any type of polluted water.