New Dean Focuses on Undergraduate Experience
This past summer Associate Dean Mark A. Lange joined the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences to direct its new Advising Center in 128 Thompson Hall. His enthusiasm for the job is palpable, and from day one he has worked tirelessly to make the SBS undergraduate experience at UMass Amherst the best that it can be.
“Our goal is to assist students with every aspect of academic support, from course selection to career planning, Lange says. "We’ve been working on developing a more comprehensive advising process that encompasses much more than registering students for classes and handling discipline problems. We want to help students connect with the College and their major department as soon as possible. This means that when students come for orientation, SBS students, faculty and staff will already be contacting them. We plan to develop a peer advising system to help with this. We are also working closely with undergraduate advisors so that we can be supportive of each other as we respond to student needs.”
Lange is mindful of the fact that it is very easy for students to feel lost in a university of this size. “While many students are proactive enough to seek out the faculty and staff they need,” he explains, “we want to get more students connected to the Advising Center as a way to help them get their questions answered and find the services and resources they need to be successful here. We also want to help students become more thoughtful about the path that they will take as they prepare to leave UMass Amherst. We are encouraging students to do more career exploration before the senior year and get them thinking about practical experiences like internships.”
On any given day, Lange works on a variety of tasks that fall into two general categories: the functioning of the Advising Center and representing SBS on various university committees. “My day,” he says, “might include responding to emails from students needing advising services, meeting with faculty or staff about undergraduate advising, speaking with colleagues in other colleges about how they deliver advising services, brainstorming with SBS staff about how we can improve aspects of the first-year experience, and meeting with a campus-wide committee.”
Being back on the UMass Amherst campus closes a loop for Lange that began a number of years ago. “I began my career as a counselor in the public schools of Nebraska, working with students and teachers in a program designed to stem the drop-out problem,” he says. “Soon, I realized that to be more effective, I needed more education. So, I went to graduate school, first while I was working as a counselor and subsequently in a clinical psychology doctoral program. In a twist of fate, I came to UMass Amherst to do my clinical internship at Mental Health Services.”
After years of practice in clinical psychology, Lange started teaching a psychology class at Holyoke Community College about 20 years ago. “I thoroughly enjoyed it,” he says. Since then his work has focused on teaching psychology and a small private practice in clinical work, coaching individuals for personal success and consulting with organizations in group process facilitation, training and team building.
During the last few years, Lange took on the task of helping HCC assess and improve its education of new students. Besides working with a college-wide task force to develop and implement a first-year experience program, he also created and directed an orientation program for new faculty. Lange has served on the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education’s task force on graduation and retention, and was chair of the HCC psychology department.
“Almost everything about working with students appeals to me,” Lange says with his typical enthusiasm. “Every student is here for an important piece of their life development. We have a unique opportunity to make a positive contribution to that process, from students who aren’t certain of their vocational interests—but are making an important transition from adolescence to adulthood—to older, nontraditional students, who have consciously made this important step in their lives. Classroom learning, interacting with peers, learning to be productive citizens…all of this is exciting and beneficial to all involved. Whether it is teaching a class that stimulates student learning, helping an individual navigate a personal crisis, or just witnessing a student building personal relationships, I find working with students to be very rewarding.”
Lange is a strong proponent of the liberal arts. “A liberal arts degree offers a great start for so many careers,” he says. “I suggest picking an area that seems most interesting and start there. Once you start down that path, you’ll get a clearer sense of where you want to go. Here at UMass Amherst, we have an outstanding faculty and professional staff. Because of its size, opportunities abound in so many academic areas. Regardless of a student’s initial interest, he or she has lots to explore along the way. We also offer a tremendous variety of social opportunity within our diverse student body. Combined with Five-College connections, internships, and study abroad opportunities, a UMass Amherst student can go anywhere and do anything. And remember, the SBS Advising Center in 128 Thompson Hall can help you sort it all out.”
November 24, 2009