With curriculum and online teaching becoming more and more important in the time of the coronavirus pandemic, having a strategy is also becoming increasingly crucial.
Luckily for those at Thomas Nelson, the College got a head start of sorts last year. That is when Dr. Lauren Williams, an English professor at the College since 2013, was awarded a one-year LEAP (Leadership for Equity in Action Pipeline) fellowship to work on improvements and enhancements to curriculum and online teaching. Then, just last week, Dr. Susan English, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Workforce Development, announced Williams has taken on a new role at the College as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction.
“I think it is going to allow us to have a deeper connection with these really important areas like curriculum and our online program, which obviously just became super important,” Williams said. “It’s really fortuitous that this happened because that has now taken center stage.”
English made the announcement in a campus-wide email.
“Thomas Nelson has already benefited from Lauren's expertise in the areas of eCampus and Canvas implementation,” she said. “She has played a critical role in supporting our faculty as we pivoted from mostly face-to-face instruction to an online modality due to the national pandemic.”
Williams, who won’t be teaching anymore except in summer sessions, is excited about her new role, especially since it’s a continuation of what she’s been doing for the past year.
“I was already in progress on a few things that were designed to help us move forward in online programming,” she said. “That actually wound up being very helpful.”
Keeping that momentum going, and knowing her work is for the foreseeable future and not just one year should put Thomas Nelson ahead of the curve in the move to online education.
“Despite all the hurdles of this year, I felt like we really got momentum and got some cool things going,” she said. “I’m really excited about that. I’m really excited to continue, and to keep building the things that we were building this year.”
In graduate school, Williams was exposed to faculty development, which piqued her interest in doing more than teaching.
“I’ve always tried to find interesting ways that are not totally connected to being a classroom teacher,” she said.
Once at Thomas Nelson, that didn’t stop. She has been involved in other projects, including the OER (Open Educational Resources) initiative, and the QEP (Quality Enhancement Plan), which was focused on advising.
“I always want to know what’s going on in other areas and meet people from other areas,” she said. “I’ve never been good at staying in my little zone.”
Since she has worked with a wide variety of people at the College in the past seven years, she thought she would be a natural fit for a position that touches so many areas.
“Her dedication to excellence, student-centered processes, support for faculty and collaborations across the College has made her an asset to the office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Workforce Development,” English said.
Williams has undergraduate, graduate and doctorate degrees in English, but she wasn’t sure what she wanted to pursue as an undergrad.
“Everyone would ask, ‘Are you going to be a teacher?’” she said. “I was kind of put off by that question because I don’t know. Is that the only thing I can do? I was kind of rebellious of it at first. That wasn’t my plan. I didn’t really have a plan.”
Her first attempt at undergraduate work ended after two years.
“I felt like I needed to figure out what I was doing,” she said.
After taking a few years off, she returned to college, eventually earning her bachelor’s degree in 2003.
“When I back to school, it was interesting because now I wasn’t a traditional student,” she said. “I was a commuter student with a full-time job. I was seeing the other side of it.”
She earned her master’s in 2009, and her doctorate in 2017. It was during her time as a graduate student that her future came into focus. She became interested in access to education for everyone.
“I met a lot of really cool people who were doing different types of literacy teaching, like ESL. Some people were working in prisons,” she said. “I got excited about the possibilities. That’s when I decided I really wanted to work in a community college.”
She said she ran into some resistance while working on her Ph.D., noting her advisers didn’t understand, but she persisted.
“They were perplexed by what I was doing,” she said. “I never wavered at that point. Eventually, they were like, ‘I get it. I see what you want to do.’ I want to work with people who aren’t traditionally served by higher education. Community college always felt like a natural fit for what I was interested in doing.”
She has fit in very well at Thomas Nelson, winning numerous awards, including Faculty Member of the Year (2018), and Spirit of Thomas Nelson Award for Professional Excellence (2016, ’17,’ 18,’ 19). She began her new position July 1.