In the Spotlight: Chris Cassirer, Dean of CAS/CMB
By Mark Donahue
As one of NLU's newest employees, Chris Cassirer, Sc.D.,has hit the ground running as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and College of Management and Business (CMB). He's overseeing the next chapter for the schools after a period of reorganization, and it includes not only generating and redesigning academic programs but looking at ways to grow the colleges while better serving students.
Cassirer's background affords him a special perspective on the higher education experience — one he shares with many NLU students. He is the first in his family to attend and finish graduate school, holding a doctor of science in public health from Johns Hopkins University. Cassirer went on to spend the first part of his career in traditional academia, working as professor at the University of Minnesota then George Washington University, before jumping into the for-profit sector at Capella University, where he served in a number of leadership roles, from dean of its school of human services to president.
I had a chance to catch up with the Dean to talk about what's ahead for CAS and CMB in the coming year.
What drew you to the position at NLU?
What drew me to NLU was really the mission of the University and the strategic direction that the institution was taking — and many colleges and universities are struggling, both financially and operationally, in this new regulatory environment, this downturn in the economy. I was attracted to the fact that leadership had taken the brave and courageous move to address some of those challenges head on rather than waiting, like so many institutions are doing, to take the steps necessary to position the University for future success.
What are the strengths of the CAS and CMB?
I think we have a very strong faculty community that is in many cases a mix of both folks with a long history of staying with the institution through its various changes and its evolution as well as a very strong new faculty that has recently joined.
What sets CAS and CMB apart from the competition?
I've observed and experienced in working with the faculty and the staff the strong alignment with the need and the goal of serving the adult working professional student and that our strength is really in our history of serving that population. I don't think there's any other institution that has as long a history as NLU of serving the adult professional student.
The B.A. in Criminal Justice is rolling out this year. Are there any new programs coming up from CAS and CMB?
We've been through a new program identification process across the University, and we're looking at a number of programs for both CMB and CAS. For example, we have a new Bachelor's in Communication that we're working on developing and presenting to the community within the next year. For this year, the faculty of CMB have done a great job of redesigning our M.B.A. program with a new and fresh focus on leadership throughout the curriculum. This new focus will help articulate a pathway to distinction for the CMB by focusing on a professional area that has stronger potential employment opportunities for our graduates.
Describe the greater role of career development in what the colleges are doing.
In order to best serve the adult working professional, we have to take a holistic perspective and really understand that when a student comes to us they're seeking more than just an academic credential. Oftentimes they have a life goal, a professional goal, and their academic goal is just a part of helping them move forward in their lives to be of service in their communities and their professional lives, or in some cases just to help move their families forward in their own life.
And so we as an institution have to recognize and wrap ourselves around the students' life goal and then help them articulate an academic roadmap, a professional roadmap and potentially a life plan to help them move forward. So integrating career development, professional development opportunities from the beginning, assessing those needs of the learner when they start with us is really critical to our differentiation and our long-term success.
What's on your wish list of things to do for the coming year?
I think we're at a great place in our evolution, and coming out of the changes of the last two years the institution is really positioned for growth and for expansion and for thinking about ways to better serve the needs of those working adult professionals with new program offerings and redesign of some of our existing programs.
What have you enjoyed the most about your work here at NLU so far?
I am a first-generation college student. I'm the first in my family to go to graduate school and all the way through the doctoral experience, so I understand what that takes for many of our students who come from similar backgrounds, so I'm really drawn to the mission and the goals of the institution to serve that population in particular.