Lee Skinner is excited about this upcoming academic year and the potential of Newcomb-Tulane College. She wants to meet students and hear their stories, and has serious goals to grow Newcomb-Tulane College’s impact on the campus community.
You moved to New Orleans from Claremont, California. What are your favorite New Orleans spots so far?
I’ve been to Octavia Books and enjoyed that. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is a wonderful place. I bought myself a membership there because I enjoyed it so much. I enjoy going to City Park and exploring the walking and hiking trails there and the sculpture garden. Audubon Park is a great place to go running and I like running on the neutral ground. I’m looking forward to checking out the many recommendations I’ve gotten, too.
Tulane students are back on campus. What is the best part of the start of a new semester?
Oh, the excitement and the enthusiasm. Everybody - the students, faculty and staff -- are delighted to be here. We can't wait to get to work. There's a sense of promise. That's very exciting.
You recently said “I am deeply committed fundamentally to make undergraduate education the best possible experience for students from the moment they enter college until they finish their capstone.” Can you expand on that? What does the student experience mean to you?
Students should be getting something of value out of every academic experience and encounter they have, even if they don't realize it at the time. Many times we only discover the importance or the meaning of what we've done or experienced after the fact. I encourage people to be reflective about their education and to take some contemplative moments and think about their experiences and how they stack up together.
So the undergraduate experience means to me that students have those value driven moments, encounters, and long term experiences too, that help them develop as fully realized human beings. We want our students to have the ability to work and think across different modalities and disciplines and also have the capacity to continue learning. So they have inquisitiveness, they have curiosity, they have desire to continue learning. We spark that in them, we nurture it, and we help them see how they can keep that going even when they're no longer in a structured academic environment.
What role does Newcomb-Tulane College play in that student experience?
The college is the heart of the undergraduate academic experience here, because we bring it all together for them. Our students enter Newcomb-Tulane College. They stay in Newcomb-Tulane College. They graduate from the College. They use us as their home base while they're going and having these varied academic experiences through the schools, through study abroad, so forth. We are the glue that that cements it all together. And we also do that by providing them with the resources they need to make sense out of what they're doing. Instead of just offering a series of disconnected academic experiences, for example, we oversee the core curriculum, which is like the spine of their education, it drives them through it.
We provide advising across different aspects so that they are making smart, informed choices about their courses. And more than that, making a smart, informed choice about the classes you're going to take means having thought about what you want the end results to be out of those classes. Our advisors help them do that and help them really engage with their education. And that's why I think it's great that academic advising and career advising are housed literally together because the question students often have is , what am I going to do after I get out of Tulane? That's your career. That could be graduate school. We do that kind of advising as well. We do fellowships advising. So students have a sense of their options. We help them make sense out of it all. The Center for Global Education helps them develop their capacity to be members of the global community, whether they study abroad or not. The fact that we have a core curriculum requirement on global perspectives also helps them hone this capacity. We live increasingly in a world where you have to internalize the fact that we are not isolated.
You mentioned the core curriculum. What is it and what’s the benefit of Tulane’s model?
The core curriculum is designed, as I said, to help students. It's not about ticking off boxes. It's about enabling them to develop skills. So that's why the way it's explained, it's laid out in the skill areas versus, you know, you need to take a math class. It's you need to take a class in formal reasoning. You need to take a class in quantitative skills. The core curriculum develops our students fully. We all need to have those perspectives. Even if that's not the field you want to go in, even if you don't feel like that's where your natural inclination lies, you need to be able to understand how people think who do work in that modality. If you're a scientist you still need to understand what the humanists are thinking and how they experience their lives. You're a history major. Well, it's important to have a sense of what scientific reasoning is. We get scientific information all the time. How do you make sense out of it?
We have a two tiered writing requirement because the ability to communicate is so crucial. People should be able to communicate clearly, succinctly. They need to be able to organize information in ways that make sense to diverse audiences. I'm also excited about our race and inclusion requirement and the global perspectives requirement because these are ways that we encounter difference. We encounter difference in the classroom setting, in ways that challenge us to engage meaningfully with what difference is, which again is something that's increasingly valuable in our society. I would be concerned that we would be not preparing our students well to live in the actual world around us if we didn't prepare them with these kinds of experiences.
What advice do you have for our first-year students?
Be engaged. Don't be a passive recipient of your education. Get out there, be engaged, take part in class discussions. If you feel too shy to raise your hand in class, go visit your professor during office hours. Go visit your professor during office hours anyway. As a professor myself, I can tell you there have been many times when I have been all alone and lonely during my office hours and would have loved for a student to drop by even if the student didn't have a question, even if the student just wanted to talk to me and get to know me a little bit. Professors love that. We want to engage with our students. So come see us. Take advantage of the many resources that Newcomb-Tulane College offers to help you be successful. You don't need to wait until you're not doing well to take advantage of these. Everybody can benefit by using the Academic Learning and Tutoring Center for a little extra support. Everybody can benefit by having somebody read over their paper before they submit it. I am an accomplished writer, I think. I'm pretty widely published. I still have people read my writing and give me feedback. I strongly encourage everybody to take advantage of all the resources. Those are just a couple examples.
What about our graduating seniors, entering their final year at Tulane?
Don't check out. Continue to stay engaged. This is your last shot at your Tulane undergraduate education. You might come back to graduate school, you might come back here to law school, you might go somewhere else for advanced education, but this is your last shot at your formal undergraduate education. Continue to take challenging classes that are engaging. If you have a little room in your schedule, experiment, take something you have never tried before. This is your chance. Consider writing a senior thesis or engaging in research in the lab or in the field with a faculty member. You have developed the skills over the past three years. Now you can really put them to great use and have a wonderful final rewarding academic capstone experience.
This is your first year at Tulane, what do you hope to learn?
I hope to learn more about what I can continue to do with the College to make sure that all of our students are successful and that we are successful in helping them engage meaningfully with their education. I don't know what I don't know. It's a hard question to answer.
You’re a Latin American literature scholar. What are you researching now?
My specialty is 19th century Spanish America. I'm interested in seeing the patterns and commonalities and differences across the continent, so I look at many different countries there.
What I'm currently working on is a cultural history of food and eating in Spanish America from 1825, right after the Wars of Independence to the present. I'm not interested so much in what people ate, but how they wrote and talked and thought about what they were eating and why they were eating. Food is an indicator of culture, but people also mobilize food and things like manners and dining etiquette and the ways in which you consume food, where you eat it to signal out all kinds of things about themselves as individuals and as members of groups.
How will the Tulane faculty and facilities assist you in continuing that research?
I'm really excited to be here at Tulane. The Department of Spanish and Portuguese is great and it's been super welcoming. The Stone Center for Latin American Studies is renowned for its strength and the vibrancy of its faculty and graduate students and student engagement and programming. And the Latin American Library is an incredible resource for anybody doing research on Latin America. It was one of the pulls for me to come to Tulane.
What contributions do you expect to make as Dean of Newcomb-Tulane College?
I like to say that my job as Dean is to help other people get their jobs done and to help other people do their jobs more effectively. And that means everybody. The job of the students is to engage meaningfully with their education in their academic experience. So my job is to help the students do that through mobilizing the different areas we have here in the College that are structured to do just that. My job is to help the people who are working in those areas get the resources they need to get their work done.
One of my strengths is that I'm good at thinking about ways we can be more efficient in our work. I also want to contribute by creating a culture of transparency and developing standard procedures and policies. This helps ensure equity of access to resources and opportunities for everybody. The end goal is always ensuring that the students have the best possible academic experience they can.
How can students meet you?
I do hope to have some office hours set up specifically for students. I will be going to as many College Coffees as I can. Those are Friday mornings in Cudd Hall. I'm connecting with USG, Undergraduate Student Government. I’ve been going to student-focused events. I want to get to know students and kind of get the word out there that I am approachable so that people can come to me. Hearing from students and getting their perspectives on their education is invaluable. And finally, it’s just plain fun to spend time with them.