Provost Szymanski Develops Plan to Foster Student Success

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Provost Lynda Szymanski

On July 1, 2021, Lynda A. Szymanski started her new role as Luther’s first provost. The role was established to integrate three main aspects of the Luther student experience––academic affairs, student engagement, and student success. Working alongside President Jenifer K. Ward and the provost leadership team, Szymanski has been figuring out how best to provide support to Luther students and to their success. Part of that has been developing a new model to enhance the student experience on campus.

“I have lots of visions for the Office of the Provost,” Szymanski said. “As we start to think about what we can do with this new model, we are thinking about ways to really help support student learning across these areas. When I think about my vision for the provost model at Luther College, my focus is on three core commitments, including Integration, Equity, and Retention. Those are the three things that really guide our work.”

As her first step to execute her new integrated model, Szymanski has created her provost leadership team with faculty and staff across all three main areas of the student experience. According to Associate Provost and Associate Professor of Religion Sean D. Burke, Szymanski has been using the team to create an approach that betters the student experience. She plans to do this by reviewing the current state of affairs at Luther, identifying where most change is needed, and the action steps needed to make the change.

“After arriving, she immediately created a provost leadership team so that we would have a team regularly working together,” Burke said. “She’s hit the ground running on making it so we can be proactive, and not just simply react to whatever it is that’s happening at any given moment. I think it’s really exciting that we have a strategic integrated vision for the student experience.”

One of the results of Szymanski’s new integrated model is that students will start receiving midterm grades. Early on, she received advice from the Student Engagement Office which suggested that it could be beneficial for students if they could receive feedback on their academic performance. Szymanski had spent her time learning more about this issue, and then went back to her leadership team to discuss what would be best for students.

“As we put our heads together from all three of these areas, we realized one thing that would be really beneficial is to give every student a midterm grade,” Szymanski said. “We’ve been working with the Registrar and faculty so that faculty are giving students a midterm grade. We’re doing this because that would give the students some time––a whole week––before they would need to make the decision whether they want to withdraw or not, and so they can talk to their advisor and faculty members.”

In response to Provost Szymanski’s new integrated model and changes, President of Faculty and Associate Professor of Nursing Jayme Sue Nelson expressed her support and expectations for the new provost from a faculty perspective.

“All of us would expect that [Szymanski] will have the entire college and student experience in the forefront, and I would say that’s a big change for us,” Nelson said. “We’ve always been very student-centered, but I think this new model brings us to the forefront, that the student experience and all other aspects of Luther college are integrated and central. I think it resonates with faculty, and faculty will definitely support that new model.”

Szymanski admits there are a few roadblocks in executing the new model. For her, the main challenge comes from anxiety and uncertainty. 

“There are some challenges anytime you make a big change in an organization,” Szymanski said. “Overall, I’d say there’s excitement with a little bit of anxiety. We really want to make sure that we are providing enough support so that students can learn as much as they can while they’re here and be as successful as they can. I’m hoping that students will feel a deeper sense of integrated experience while they’re at Luther.”

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