Editor’s Note: Associate Professor of Practice Jill Hurst-Wahl is stepping down from her role as director of the iSchool’s Library and Information Science program this summer. She offers this reflection from her 5 years as program director.
There is no job description for an iSchool program director and each program director defines his or her own role differently. For me, the best description has boiled down to three things: the answerer of all questions, the solver of all problems, and the person who cares about everything. Those three things describe my life for the last five years as director for the Masters in Library and Information Science program.
When I joined the iSchool in 2001 as a visiting instructor, I had no vision of me staying on longer than two years. Coming from a corporate background and working as a full-time consultant, I could not imagine staying in an academic environment. However, life joyfully intervened and I stayed in Syracuse and remained connected to the school as an adjunct instructor. When I became a full-time professor of practice in 2009, I had no dreams of being program director. My tenure with the iSchool had already been impacted by three program directors (Jana Bradley, Gisela von Dran, and Scott Nicholson). Soon there was number four (David Lankes) and then the recognition that my project management skills might work well in the program director position. I stepped into the roll in 2012.
Every student in the iSchool is in a program which has its own director. We each work long hours attending to a myriad of details from student recruitment and retention, classes being offered (when and by whom), the need for new full-time and adjunct faculty, and much more. If you have never heard a student mention us, then we have done our jobs well because everything went smoothly for them. If you have heard our names, then it is likely that we got involved to smooth out something, no matter what that thing was. There is great joy in knowing that I did something – small or large – to help one of our students succeed. That joy culminates in watching students walk across the stage at convocation, where handshakes and hugs ensue.
However, being a leader with future members of my own profession (a.k.a. students) watching me isn’t easy. I know that they watch my every move, mostly with curiosity, and sometimes with criticism. If observing has taught them anything, I hope it is that being a manager and leader isn’t easy. Being a manager and a leader can mean long hours and sometimes unpopular decisions. Perhaps for some students, it might be that lessons in the classroom were made more real because of conversations and decisions they saw made in Hinds Hall. Some even witnessed Six Thinking Hats in action!
What will I remember from these last five years? I will remember:
- The long days filled with meetings, email, teaching, and talking with students and prospective students. And did I mention the email? Our iSchool academic programs don’t sleep. Classes are held on campus and online, with students asking questions and seeking advice at all hours of the day. As the answerer of all questions, I can tell you that most of those were asked through email and many were answered at night or on the weekend (when meetings aren’t held!).
- The success achieved by all of our iSchool students, no matter what program they are in, and knowing the work the programs put in for that success to occur. There is nothing better than watching a graduate head to his/her first professional position or hearing of career moves and advancement.
- The introductions made of students to library and information science professionals, whether that happened through social media or at a conference. The library profession is one where relationships matter, and I enjoy helping students and alumni make those relationships with others in the profession. One of my most favorite photos was emailed to me after a then-student talked with one of my close colleagues at a conference. They had realized that they had “me” in common and that conversation led to a professional bond.
- The support I have received from faculty, staff, my program and student assistants, and undergraduate/graduate students, especially when the days were extremely long and the stress higher than normal. I’m grateful for every kind word and every bright smile!
- Securing the MSLIS program’s American Library Association continued accreditation for an additional seven years in 2016. Many know that this singular event dominated my life for several years. It is a pleasure to have it now in the rearview mirror.
And a countless number of other memories. Thank YOU for each and every one of them! As I return to being “just faculty,” please know those memories will never be forgotten.