About this series: Building Brilliance With … is a periodic Q&A in which we shine a light on a Lawrence University staff member whose work helps support Lawrence’s students and the university’s mission.
Monita Mohammadian Gray ’92 returned to Lawrence in 2016 as the school’s first dean of academic success.
Her position was created as Lawrence launched the Center for Academic Success, an initiative aimed at increasing support for students at every step of their academic journey. She has overseen the substantial growth of the program over the past five years, including its recent move to the second floor of the Seeley G. Mudd Library, renovated via a $1.5 million investment that was part of the Be the Light! Campaign.
In addition to more cohesive office space for the center’s staff, students can now find a modern classroom, a testing room, a conference room, a general tutoring area, a remodeled Help Desk, and a computer lab, all easily accessible and smartly connected to other available services in the library.
We caught up with Gray to talk about the excitement surrounding the Center for Academic Success as her staff looks forward to again working in-person with Lawrence students.
What excites you most about the work you do with students?
Honestly, the best part of my work is to watch students we support transform into more confident individuals while they find their best academic selves.
How has the renovation and relocation of the Center for Academic Success changed the way it can and will be utilized by students?
The renovation and relocation of the Center for Academic Success took place at a time when all of our services were virtual. We have not had the opportunity to showcase the new space yet, but have plans to highlight our services for fall term. In our new space on the second floor of the Seeley G. Mudd Library, students have ample study and tutoring space, a centralized space for meetings with staff, a semi- private waiting area, an active learning classroom, and more reduced-distraction and isolated testing spaces for students with accommodations.
The decision to move our space into the library allows students to take care of more academic needs in one space. They can find resources, talk to a reference librarian, address technology questions with IT, use the MakerSpace, and stop in to our office to ask questions or find out how we can help them with any academic challenge.
Did the pandemic change the demands on you and your staff? And were there lessons learned that will be beneficial going forward?
Most students struggled with the shift to online learning, which led to greater demands on our staff to offer more support to students. Sometimes that work came at atypical work hours to help our students in time zones across the world. I am grateful for our staff’s commitment to our students’ success. Many students struggled with their own health, the health of their loved ones and friends, or other family obligations on top of their academic work. This combination creates a tricky balance to find academic success.
We are rewriting our policies, procedures, and website to be clearer and more transparent in their explanation of who we are, what we do, and how we can help students. We want there to be clarity about what resources are available to students, or what academic choices or options they may have.
As we prepare for our return to a fully in-person fall term, we have begun to evaluate how we deliver our services. We do our best to meet students where they are. We may be able to offer students virtual meeting options to suit an immediate need.
What work or life experiences led you to this role at Lawrence?
I am a Lawrentian, through and through. I spent my undergraduate years studying psychology and served in various leadership roles on the tennis team and in my sorority. I served as an RLA (now community advisor or CA) my senior year and studied at the London Centre. I learned how to navigate different peoples’ expectations and find solutions to challenging problems.
Several years after I graduated, I returned to Lawrence, where I worked in the admissions office for over eight years. From the beginning of my career in higher education I believed it was important to consider student success in admission decisions. At another small, private institution, I worked in career development, orientation, transfer student services, retention and student success, and the Dean of Students office. I earned a Master’s degree in Educational Policy and Administration and a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership and Policy Development from the University of Minnesota.
My commitment to Lawrence remained strong in the years I worked away from Appleton. I served as a board member of the Lawrence University Alumni Association for five years, served as chair and as a committee member for multiple reunion planning teams, and have kept up with Lawrentians from my era and those I have met through my friends and work over the years. It is wonderful to connect with other Lawrence graduates, to hear stories about their time here, or welcome friends back when their children are looking at Lawrence. Most importantly, it is truly wonderful to have the opportunity to support our students’ success as Lawrentians every day.
What is one thing you do away from campus that helps you recharge your batteries or otherwise brings you joy?
Exercise and movement. I love riding my indoor cycle to a virtual workout. I tend to exercise in the morning when my excuse game is not as strong, and enjoy starting my day with an intense workout. After that, I feel like I can handle whatever comes my way. Alternatively, I love taking long walks while listening to a favorite podcast or new audiobook; it grounds me by giving me peace of mind. Fresh air paired with a soul-filling book—nothing compares for me.