New hires fill out roster of class deans

Photos courtesy of Allegheny College

Photos courtesy of Allegheny College

Allegheny College President Hilary Link’s restructuring plans are underway and have introduced new administrative roles and brought with them new placements in existing positions.

The position of Class Dean is something not common to Allegheny and was first introduced last semester when the college hired Niki Fjeldal to take on the role of First-Year Class Dean and Director of Allegheny Bound Orientation.

“Fjeldal started in her role in July 2021,” said Dean for Student Success Ian Binnington. “Allegheny subsequently hired a second and third/fourth-year class dean, both (of whom) started in Feb. 2022.”

According to Binnington, the Office of Class Deans has been fully staffed for only six weeks.

Amongst the staff are Fjeldal, Second-Year Class Dean and Director of Transfer Advising Amy Stearns, and Third and Fourth-Year Class Dean Jonathan May.

Stearns described her role to be twofold.

“Firstly, my role is to provide second year students with resources regarding anything from choosing a major or applying for internships,” Stearns said. “Secondly, I want to make sure that students who transfer to the college are clear about things such as credit transfers, Allegheny’s curriculum or even simply navigating the campus.”

 One of the key elements of the second year experience is the process of declaring a major and a minor, according to Stearns. Her position is greatly entwined in this process, and Stearns especially noted the inaugural “Declaration Day,” Friday, April 8.

“We are introducing a recurring event to celebrate the students who are declaring or have already declared their major,” Stearns said. “Community members who work in different capacities within the college will also be present to offer students resources in various areas.”

Prior to joining Allegheny, Stearns was working as an academic advisor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

“During my role as an academic advisor, I was able to learn that oftentimes when a student’s academics are suffering, there is an external cause,” Stearns said. “I am hoping I can use my experiences in higher education to provide support to students at Allegheny.”

May, on the other hand, was director of student services at Larkin University’s College of Pharmacy.

“I was able to work in a lot of different capacities during my previous role,” May said. “I gained experience in academic advising, residential advising and even career advising which I hope to apply to my role at Allegheny.”

May expressed that his role entails varied responsibilities, as he believes that the third- and fourth-year experiences are vastly different.

“In your junior year, you’re getting into the thick of your major and taking more advanced courses,” May said. “Whereas in your senior year you are focused on finishing strong while consistently planning for the future.”

May labeled junior year as a “forgotten” and perhaps lonely year, as students are not absorbed in the excitement of first-year orientation, declaring their major or graduation.

“I’m planning to work with a committee to introduce events and traditions unique to the junior year,” May said. “I don’t want students to forget their junior year because I recall that my own was a blur.”

On the other hand, May also outlined the nervousness with which many students enter their senior year.

“The uncertainty of life after graduation can be overwhelming and (can) create a lot of jitterbugs,” May said. “I’m here as an expert to present students with resources relevant to their situations.”

Binnington believes that it is important to offer ample support to senior students in finding their path after graduation. He also described Allegheny’s alumni network to be one of its most valuable resources.

“I believe that anyone who graduates from Allegheny and does not look back fondly, it is a true shame for both the individual and the college community,” Binnington said. “Part of the institution’s vision is to ensure that Allegheny can offer enough support to its students so that they are compelled to give back after graduation even simply with their valuable time.”

Binnington has been at Allegheny for over 16 years and has served in a number of roles. Most recently, he served as the registrar, however he left this position to fulfill the role of dean for student success on Aug. 1, 2021.

“It’s not commonly known, but I’ve been in charge of overlooking the Learning Commons over the past five years,” Binnington said. “(President Hilary) Link’s restructuring plan required a more experienced understanding of the college’s academic composition in the area of student success so I shifted focus from my responsibilities as registrar to dean for student success.” 

Binnington emphasized that in his role, his main focus is ensuring that students leave Allegheny with an enriching experience and are able to make most of the resources available to them.

“It is my job to make sure that all the different departments are collaborating together to present students with the best possible opportunities to nurture their college experience,” Binnington said. “We now have experts working in roles to offer students support in a number of ways throughout their years at Allegheny.”

Binnington clarified that his role as dean for student success should not be confused with the similar-sounding role of dean of students.

“The dean of students is responsible for residential life, sorority and fraternity life and student involvement,” Binnington said.

Tevis Bryant was announced as the new vice resident for student life and dean of students on March 29.

Bryant was formerly the Assistant Dean of Institutional Diversity, a role he began in Sept. 2021.

“In my previous role I was the bridge between Allegheny and Meadville in terms of their understanding of diversity and inclusion,” Bryant said. 

Now, Bryant will lead the Division of Student Life, which includes Community Standards and Wellness, the Counseling and Personal Development Center, the Dean of Students Office, Public Safety, Residence Life and Student Leadership and Engagement.

Bryant explained that he and Binnington work closely together and meet weekly to discuss different approaches to student success from their differing perspectives.

“(Binnington’s) role is more focused toward the academic side of student success,” Bryant said. “Whereas I overlook things such as community involvement and engagement, student extracurricular activities and campus life.”

According to Bryant, many factors contribute to student success.

“I just want to emphasize that academics are not the only determinant of student success,” Bryant said. “I have learned over the course of my career that factors such as what building you live in, what sorts of activities you are involved in and what sort of representation you see for your culture all contribute to your success.”

Bryant stated that students looking to get involved in activities across campus can visit  him for clarity and advice.

“My job is to present students with the bigger picture of whatever it is they wish to get involved in,” Bryant said. “Part of my job is to present you with the pros and cons of a potential experience because everything has positive and negative consequences.”

Bryant identified leadership programming as one of his goals for his new role.

“We’re currently in the process of starting a chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success at Allegheny,” Bryant said. “NSLS will be available to students who are looking to build on their leadership skills in the upcoming fall semester.”

Bryant’s role focuses mainly on students’ needs, and he said that it is important for students to communicate their needs to his office..

“I just want the students to know that every single decision I make as an administrator is afforded by student opinions,” Bryant said. 

Bryant announced that the Division of Students will be creating a strategic plan over the summer under his leadership.

“The strategic plan will focus on core areas such as campus safety, improving the quality of dining services, improving the marketing of engagement opportunities and more.”

Bryant noted that students are often unaware of the various opportunities on campus.

“A lot happens on campus and is left unnoticed due to a lack of awareness,” Bryant. “We are planning to create a hub where students can find information on all the different engagement events on campus in one place.”

Binnington described the new deans as experts in their fields and the perfect fit for their roles and the vision he and the rest of the administration share regarding student success. Creating a structure where students are supported throughout their college experience and have expert opinions on different matters is elemental to Link’s restructuring plans, according to Binnington.

“We have seen top liberal arts colleges in the country like Williams (College) and Amherst (College) implement such structural systems and find real success,” Binnington said. “(Link) is trying to focus on taking actions rather than simply sending messages about student success.”