Sarah Hansen, Division of Student Services

Sarah Hansen, director of assessment and strategic initiatives within the Division of Student Services.

Sarah Hansen, director of assessment and strategic initiatives within the Division of Student Services. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

Last summer, Sarah Hansen stepped into shoes that had never been filled.

Hansen is the director of assessment and strategic initiatives for the Division of Student Services, a new position created in July 2009.

The former Health Iowa director now has tasks that include observing and evaluating out-of-class student learning and managing the Division of Student Services’ contributory efforts to those areas. Hansen is also responsible for moving forward her division’s projects.

Although her new job duties focus on student learning outside the classroom, Hansen still spends plenty of time in the classroom, having taught classes in Health Promotion for 10 years, and currently serving as an adjunct lecturer in the College of Education. She taught the course College Students and Their Environments, and she regularly supervises a practicum in the Student Development graduate program.

In addition to her already hefty plate, the Manchester, Iowa, native also supervises the Student Success Team for the Office of the Provost, a responsibility she held during her 10-year stint at Health Iowa. Hansen, who received a BA in sociology and an MA in education from The University of Iowa, talked to fyi about her first year in a new position, her experiences in the classroom, how she recenters among her busy work schedule, and her furry, 120-pound lunch date.

How did you come into this new position?

Health Iowa was probably one of the areas within the Division of Student Services that was furthest ahead in terms of having learning outcomes for programs. We were capturing not just whether students came to programs, but whether they really grew and changed as a result of what we were doing with them. I had worked with Tom Rocklin on a variety of initiatives, so when this opportunity came up, it was something I was really interested in moving to.

What do you do in this position?

This was an area Vice President Rocklin saw as not really being addressed. There really wasn’t anybody that was charged with the two things I’m charged with. One is moving assessment forward in the division—figuring out, capturing, and communicating all the ways students grow, learn, and develop as a result of their experiences outside the classroom or alongside the curriculum. This can be as varied as looking at what students learn from part-time jobs in the division, how they develop as student organization leaders, the ways in which individual consultations at our health service assist them in making behavior changes, or what an intramural official or resident assistant learns from being in those roles.

The “strategic initiatives” part of my role means that I’m responsible for moving forward projects related to health and safety, leadership, and multicultural competence—three priorities within the division. It’s a nice combination of having to think “big picture” but also really being accountable for getting things done, too.

How was the transition from your old position to a brand new one?

It’s been a great transition for me. This is a completely different type of job in a lot of ways, but in ways that are very stimulating. I have a lot of autonomy, but that’s paired with a lot of accountability. I’m allowed to be creative in the ways that I get my work done, but I am responsible for moving pretty big projects forward.

A few of my favorite things…

Food: scallops

Drink: Diet Pepsi

Book: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

TV show: Seinfeld

Music: Bruce Springsteen

Sports teams: Hawkeye wrestling and men’s basketball

How exactly is this job different from your previous position at Health Iowa?

This position is a lot more independent. I work with colleagues across the division, which is great, but I don’t really have as much of an intact group of cohorts that I work with like I used to. I have multiple teams in this job, which is really a great thing. I have one group that I work with for leadership, a separate group for multicultural competence, another group that’s working on assessment, a group that I’m working with on alcohol and safety issues…it really allows me to work with a much broader group of people, which I enjoy. It’s different every day.

What is your favorite part about being in the classroom as an adjunct lecturer?

Sharing my excitement about the material with students and watching them make their own connections with the content. My teaching always incorporates assignments that require students to reflect on the topic, theory, or model, and I enjoy getting to know them through that process, whether it’s a struggle with a particular theory, learning to apply a model to a new situation, or thinking about how a topic fits within their experiences.

How have your teaching strategies changed over the years?

I’ve really come to embrace teaching as a dialogue rather than a monologue. I think a lot of new teachers really focus on the instructor as an expert, and I certainly felt that responsibility when I first started teaching. I vividly remember my first night teaching a course. I thought I had enough material for three hours and we were done in one! I am now much more comfortable in my skin as an instructor and am able to view teaching and learning as a reciprocal interaction. As an instructor who is also a practitioner, I also really use a lot of real-world examples in my teaching, which I think brings the topics to life even more.

You coordinate the Student Success Team, a duty you also held during your time with Health Iowa. What are the team’s goals?

The Student Success Team is an interdisciplinary group that focuses on undergraduate student success. It was initially meant to be a grassroots way to say “Here’s what we should be doing to ensure success.” Ideas like The IOWA Challenge, which is a set of expectations to guide students toward success, and Convocation came directly out of the SST. We have a project now called Pick One, in which first-year students are encouraged to pick one campus activity to become involved in.

What was your first job?

I was a telephone operator for the University, working at the switchboard. Before we had the web, people called us to look up phone numbers. So I answered the phone 200 times an hour and connected callers.

What is something your colleagues might be surprised to learn about you?

Outside of work, one of my main hobbies is running. I’m training for a 12-mile run in June, and I’ve done two half marathons. Running is just something that helps me re-center. Another thing is that nobody outside of work calls me “Sarah.” My family and friends all call me “Sar,” so when I get a call for “Sarah,” I know it’s work-related.

What is your favorite weekday lunch spot?

During the week I go home—I have a 120-pound St. Bernard puppy named Obi to feed!