Year One Review: Q&A with Susan Knabe, Associate Dean

Susan KnabeSusan Knabe, Associate Dean, Undergraduate, reached her one-year milestone in the position in June. As the first person in FIMS to fill the role, she's been in the unique position to help shape the mission and agenda of the ADU. She agreed to reflect on how the experience has gone thus far, and what she's looking forward to for the FIMS Undergraduate community down the line.


Q: Looking back over your first year as Associate Dean, Undergraduate, what have you learned or what really stands out for you?

A: Well, in any new administrative position, there is a really steep learning curve, so the short answer is that I am still learning and I am still working out what the job entails. What really stands out for me, though, is the infinite care that all the folks involved on the undergraduate side of things take with our undergraduate students. I have the bird's eye view of all of what goes into making the undergraduate program work and what goes into dealing with each and every undergraduate student at FIMS, and I have to say, it takes a village to do this work, and this very necessary work is very often hidden, or happening behind the scenes, and that was something that really stood out for me.

Q: You’re the first person to serve in the role of ADU in FIMS. What do you see as the advantages of having established the role?
A: I’m excited by new challenges, and the start-up aspect of this role was one of the things I found most attractive about taking up the position, particularly as it was combined with something that I am very passionate about, which is undergraduate teaching and curriculum development. The province and university have stressed growing graduate programs over the last few years, and FIMS has responded to this, but I think that having someone in the administration whose responsibility is the undergraduate side of things means that our undergraduate programs - MIT, MPI and MTP - will get the attention they deserve and need if we are going to continue to offer innovative, high quality education. I think it is often easy, particularly when the undergraduate programs seem to be performing well, and when the external emphasis has been elsewhere, to miss out on opportunities to renew and further develop our undergraduate programs in ways that will better serve the faculty, staff and students associated with them. I see the role of the ADU to advocate for all things undergraduate at FIMS, and to explore ways to reanimate the creative and innovative vision that was present at the development of the MIT program.

Q: There are some curriculum changes coming for first year students in MIT. Can you tell us what’s behind the changes?

A: Yes, I had the good fortune to benefit from excellent curriculum revision recommendations that came out of a year-long consultation on undergraduate curriculum undertaken by Dr. Mandy Grzyb in 2013-14. The report indicated that both faculty members and students were concerned with a sense of progression in the curriculum - the idea that concepts introduced in first year lead into the required second year courses, which build on these concepts. The idea to introduce a full year course called MIT 1020E: Introduction to MIT, helps provide students with a more cohesive approach to the material, reduces redundancy and enables students to build on concepts over the course of a full year. Many of the concepts introduced to first year students are not easily assimilated in a single semester, and the new introductory course will provide us with the luxury of having a full year to enable students to spend time learning and exploring central concepts. Similarly, faculty and students identified the need for a first year course focusing on essay writing, critical thinking and research skills, and so we have introduced MIT 1025F/G: First Year Foundations. This course will lead into a revised, more advanced required writing course in second year, focusing on rhetoric and argumentation, and will also provide students taking MIT 3000: Research Methods with a more systematic background. Finally, we are also launching MIT 1050 a/b: Navigating Our Media Landscape, which will be a general interest course available to non-MIT students.

Q: What are some of your goals for your second year as ADU?

A: In my second year as ADU I am going to be working on preparing for an undergraduate curriculum review, which will be taking place during 2016-17. Cyclical curriculum reviews are mandated by the province's quality assurance process and are intended to measure the strength and integrity of an undergraduate or graduate program. From this point of view, as you can imagine, the stakes are high: a poor review has implications for the health of the program, for the Faculty and, of course, for current and future students, as well as for alumni. So absolutely no pressure to get this part of my job right! At the same time, though, the review is also an opportunity for all of us on the undergraduate side of things to take stock of how we are doing in delivering our undergraduate programs - I hope the exercise will help further identify things we are doing well and suggest ways that we can improve the programs and build on these successes. We will certainly be reaching out to our alumni for feedback on the programs and their experiences at FIMS.

Another area that I will be working on in my second year is facilitating the expansion of the extracurricular intellectual and cultural life of undergraduate students at FIMS. Two of the initiatives that I am hoping to launch will be an undergraduate academic conference in first semester and a media arts festival in second semester. These events are at a fairly early stage of planning at this point, but I am very hopeful that these events will help foster a vibrant intellectual and cultural life here at FIMS.

Q: FIMS will be moving into a new building in January 2017. What are you looking forward to most about the move?

A: One of the things about our current building that many of us who work and study in FIMS identified as needing to be addressed was the lack of common space, and I know that this was something that the architects took on board in developing the layout of the new building. So, I am most excited about administering our undergraduate programs in a space that will help contribute to communal learning, that will support extracurricular interactions between and among students, faculty, staff and graduate students, and that will provide all FIMS folk with a welcoming place to learn and work.