Career Insights from Associate Dean of Academic Studies at Niagara College's Welland Campus: An Interview with Beth Bracken

Written by Natalie Condino, Peer Helper – Career Services 

I had the opportunity to interview Beth Bracken, who is currently the Associate Dean of Academic Studies at Niagara College’s Welland campus. Prior to becoming an Associate Dean, Beth worked at Niagara College as a Math Coordinator and Professor. We spoke about her career path and what advice she has for students as we adapt to another semester of online learning.

How did you become an Associate Dean?

“I had been a Math Professor and Coordinator of the department in a leadership role for many years and an opportunity for a secondment came up to increase that leadership position, so I tried it out. Then the full-time role of Associate Dean became available approximately 3 years ago and I decided it was time for a change. So, I applied for the job and was successful.”

What does a typical work day look like?

“My day starts off by answering the many emails I’ve received from the night before, connecting with my assistant to see what’s on deck for the day and checking my calendar to see what meetings or appointments I have. I work on the budget, faculty or student issues, and managing the Math and Communication courses. I also collaborate with colleagues and the college community to work on whatever special projects that have been issued.”

What is the most stressful aspect of your job?

“The struggles of adapting and dealing with the current COVID-19 pandemic. Our whole department has been moved to remote learning with no opportunity for face to face instructions. Many students are in different time zones and lots of technical issues have arisen throughout the year. Supporting students and faculty in their conversion to remote learning has been difficult but also rewarding.”

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job? 

“Seeing the positive sides of new technology and changes in course delivery. The way our faculty adapted to online learning with flexibility and hard work has created a successful transition during this unprecedented time.”

What are the most common student issues you deal with on a daily basis? What suggestions do you have for students to avoid this issue?

“I deal with student issues and appeals academically. This involves academic misconduct, academic recovery and the coordination of student support. Most of these issues can be resolved by communicating with your professor, reaching out to the provided supports, and becoming knowledgeable with what the institution offers in terms of academic and personal wellness, since there are a lot of opportunities if students need. I enjoy helping to direct them to those supports.”

If you could travel back in time to high school, would you still choose the same career path for yourself?

“I originally wanted to be a Sports Therapist and work at the Olympics or work in the medical field as a Doctor. But both my parents were educators and I think it ultimately led me to my current field of work. Now I wouldn’t choose another path, it has been very rewarding and has opened up a lot of opportunities for myself and my children.”

What’s the best piece of advice that you have received throughout your career?

“Ultimately, we’re in the business of student success, so I think that drives me in everything, in the courses and all my work that I do, short term or long term. I think that was the quality that I most admired in my mentors that I have carried with me throughout my career.”

What inspired you to work in your field?

“I think my parents inspired me and my love for learning. I can truly say that I am a lifelong learner. I try to take advantage of any opportunity. I think that becoming an educator was a way for me to use my love of learning to help the next generation succeed through their studies.”

What skills are required in your position?

“Experience in post-secondary education, leadership qualities, problem solving skills and a master’s degree”

What qualities are necessary to work as a college professor? What stands out in typical applicants you interview?

“The people I interview already have the pre-required content knowledge, so I look for those who are student centered, have a love for learning, and are innovative and inclusive”

What are some of the challenges you face in your position?

“I am a Math Professor and solution based. I have had to learn to soften my approach. I am student centred and want to see every student succeed. So, dealing with academic misconduct can be an onerous and difficult process.”