Sarah Spalding completed her Ph.D. in medieval history at Catholic University in 2013. Her research focused upon gender, intellectual culture and reform in the high middle ages. While at Catholic, she had opportunities to work with undergraduates in a variety of roles, both in the classroom as an instructor and administratively as an undergraduate advisor. After her doctorate, Sarah continued her work with undergraduates at Marymount University in Arlington, VA, at first as Director of Student Engagement for its School of Business. She now serves as Associate Dean of Operations for Marymount’s College of Business, Ideation, Leadership and Technology. This college has three Schools: the School of Business, the School of Technology and Innovation, and the School of Design.
Sarah says “In this role, I work to manage the operations of the college, which includes managing the budget for our cost of instruction and grants, scheduling courses, managing curriculum changes and implementation, enrollment and registration, student exceptions and concerns, and the assessment and accreditation of programs in our college.
“There is no typical day, but most often each day requires some time reviewing student concerns that make their way to the dean’s office and working with colleagues across campus in the Office of the Registrar, or the Provost’s Office, on what are the best solutions. I also chair our college curriculum committee, so some of my time is spent reviewing ways to update our curriculum with our faculty and to ensure that we are offering our courses most efficiently and serving our student needs. Currently, I am working on a project to centralize our collection of data for assessment and accreditation using our course learning management systems.
Some big projects that Sarah has tackled in this role over the last year included an overhaul of the business and information technology curriculum, which included the development of about 15 new minors, and the development of a new stand-alone accounting program. In light of the shift to more online and hybrid learning in the wake of the pandemic, she has worked with faculty to develop a college-wide standard of minimum use of their course learning management system, so that students would have a more consistent online experience across courses in the college and to promote more robust use of this tool for the delivery of course materials (whether those courses are fully online, hybrid, or face-to-face).
Sarah is also working with an IT faculty colleague on a grant that focuses on pairing students in cybersecurity with start-ups in the region. They are currently working on promoting this to qualified students, and seeking to match them with local companies. In general, she is working on redeveloping and overhauling the college’s current internship program, so she is looking forward to seeing how this smaller cohort can help in that process.
“I have also worked with our undergraduate and graduate admissions team on ways to promote our business programs internationally. In particular, I worked to develop transfer pathways for students at Malaysian institutions to start their coursework in their home countries, and complete it at our institution. The best part of this project was the opportunity to go to Malaysia, meet the students at the institutions with whom we were working, and of course, eat great food and explore!”
After completing her Ph.D., Sarah pursued job opportunities in academic administration. She was very open to pursuing this path because before she had entered graduate school, she had worked in the corporate world conducting legal research. “Because I had experience doing this type of administrative work, and had enjoyed it, I decided that I could use the academic credentials (and teaching and research skills I had acquired in the program) and use them in this role, rather than just concentrating on a faculty position. I actually started off advising undergraduates at Catholic University, which gave me some great background in learning about how students move through programs, and program requirements across majors.”
Being in her current role at Marymount has also allowed Sarah to teach for the history department, which she does every semester. “I love having all of my business and IT non-history majors take my courses, as it has forced me to consider what about history is so important and necessary for all students. I have been able to teach western civilization, world history, medieval Europe, Renaissance and Reformation, and the history of Christianity in the Middle Ages. My experience working with so many non-majors led me to develop a classroom game based on Game of Thrones that engages students with ‘real’ history in an interactive and competitive format, and has led me down the path of producing scholarship in teaching and learning. I have a forthcoming article on this very method.”
Reflecting on the relationship between her academic study and her present career, Sarah says “My role as an academic administrator uses my ability to synthesize information, use evidence to make decisions, and communicate these ideas to colleagues across campus. To me, these are all skills that I honed while working on my Ph.D. in the History Department. Instead of translating Latin all day, I am poring over program enrollment data to make decisions about program viability and curriculum needs. I have to get up to speed quickly in areas that may not have previously been my primary expertise, such as IT, business, and design. To me, this is no different from doing that initial historiographical research to understand how other historians have tackled questions, and sources, in the field. The willingness to do the research, embrace it, and then engage with the experts to build additional knowledge is to me a skill all historians use, and that translates into any project and to most other fields and industries.”
What would she wish she’d known as a graduate student that she knows now? “You can never network enough, or engage in professional development enough. I think it can be daunting for students to engage with experts in the field, when they don’t feel like experts, but it is vitally important to do so. Making these connections, scholarly or professionally, allows you to pursue opportunities that you may not have known existed. Also, rejection and failure are completely normal. No one does everything right all of the time, not everyone is selected for opportunities that they may very well deserve, but that is not a reason to avoid taking a chance or pursuing a goal. And be authentic in your career paths and decision making. A mentor or friend may have used their historical expertise to pursue one endeavor, but that is not the only way to apply it. If you know what you enjoy, and what type of life is important to you, then you will be able to use your knowledge from your program in a way that translates into your success.”