Stephen Fisher has announced that he will step down as Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education at the end of this academic year.
Provost Lawrence B. Dumas said, “I have accepted Steve’s decision with regret over the loss of a valued colleague in my office and with gratitude for his many contributions to the University during the nine years he will have served in this important position.”
Fisher is the first person to hold the position of Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education. Dumas said, “Steve has shaped the post in ways which will have lasting impact. He has been an effective advocate for undergraduates and has wisely overseen and coordinated a significant investment of university resources to enrich academic programs and services for them.”
Dumas continued, “I have valued his advice and counsel on any number of matters, not limited to undergraduate education, and have asked him to take on a variety of other responsibilities, the most notable of which was coordinating the University’s 2004 re-accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.”
“The confidence placed in him by President Bienen and myself was clearly merited.”
The creation of position of Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education was recommended in the 1988 Report of the Task Force on Undergraduate Education.
When Fisher took office in 1997, the University provided a modest array of study abroad opportunities. With the establishment of a professionally staffed Office of Study Abroad, the number of Northwestern undergraduates who study overseas for a quarter or longer has grown from fewer than 100 to more than 600 and the number of affiliated programs has grown from 11, most in Western Europe, to more than 90 throughout the world. Students from all six undergraduate schools now have opportunities for study abroad that enhance their on-campus programs of study.
“The establishment of an Office of Fellowships likewise provided expert professional support to Northwestern students applying for external awards,” Dumas noted. Northwestern undergraduates now compete successfully for an enormous range of national and international scholarships and fellowships. The abilities of students and the support provided by the new office has resulted in a succession of winners of such prestigious awards as Marshall, Luce, Rhodes, Truman, Beineke, Goldwater, NSF, and Fulbright fellowships.
Undergraduate research has also been a priority of Fisher’s. “Thanks in part to his advocacy, funds available to support undergraduate research have grown steadily” Dumas added. A university-wide faculty committee now distributes more than $200,000 each year in University funds to more than 150 undergraduates to support academic year or summer research To celebrate the research accomplishments of students, Fisher initiated Northwestern’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, at which students present their research results to the community.
Fisher’s long-term interest in improving academic advising led him to create the University Academic Advising Center that provides students with assistance in matters that are not school-specific, such as inter-school transfers and preparation for medical, dental and other health science careers. He was also a key participant in the decision-making process that led to the allocation of substantial additional resources that support school-based advising initiatives. “The effect of these initiatives is evident in the increased satisfaction in academic advising expressed by our graduating seniors,” Dumas said.
As Associate Provost, Fisher strongly supported the work of the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence, including its numerous programs for faculty and graduate students on human learning and effective teaching. During his tenure, the Searle Center established its highly successful Junior Fellows program, which seeks to make clear to new faculty from both campuses the centrality of the teaching mission of the University.
The work of the Center grew considerably in recent years. It now participates in several faculty-directed, externally-funded curriculum development programs. The Searle Center also implemented the successful Gateway Science Course Workshop program that has received more than $1 million in external support, most recently from the National Science Foundation.
Other units that report to Fisher include the International Office which has added staff to help it work with staff, faculty and students to negotiate federal regulations regarding visas and residency; the Undergraduate Leadership Program which has grown from fewer than 100 to more than 170 participants annually while at the same time sharpening its focus and enhancing the experiences of its students; and the Residential College program that enriches the experience of the 1,300 students living in the University’s 11 Residential Colleges through co-curricular programming and opportunities for informal interaction with faculty.
Fisher’s ability to work collaboratively with colleagues from across the university has contributed significantly to efforts to enhance the undergraduate experience at Northwestern, according to Dumas.
Fisher established an undergraduate council to coordinate policies and procedures dealing with the whole spectrum of academic and administrative issues involving all six undergraduate schools, the Division of Student Affairs and the Office of the Registrar. He has further deepened and solidified cooperation of the academic side of the University with the Division of Student Affairs, enabling Northwestern to benefit from a more unified view of undergraduate life.
Fisher previously served as assistant dean for freshmen in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences from 1985 to 1988; associate dean for undergraduate studies in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences from 1988 to 1993; and chair of the department of mathematics from 1993 to 1996. He was a member of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Experience and the faculty planning groups that produced the Highest Order of Excellence I and II, and other committees.