Since the passing of former Chancellor, Dr. Debra Friedman, UWT has seen a lot of uncertainty regarding university leadership. Dr. Melissa Lavitt, who as of Jan. 4th became the new Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs (EVCAA), says she is happy to be the beginning of faculty stability at UWT.
She is looking forward to further building on what UWT has already built educationally, but plans to add a few of her own personal touches for the benefit of students, faculty, and staff. “I’m not going anywhere,” says Lavitt, whose job is to oversee and support all academic enterprises at UWT.
“The academic mission and experience needs to be front and center,” says Lavitt. She also notes that the UWT experience is far different from any other she had experienced. “This campus is part of Tacoma, you cannot tell where the city ends and the university begins; that is unique.”
“I see myself as kind of a conductor,” says Lavitt. “I want students to look at UWT and to know they will get a unique undergraduate experience. This is more than signing up for classes and filling requirement boxes. It’s about how you as a student do your thinking more broadly to give yourself confidence.”
Lavitt says her experience in education has prepared her for EVCAA. She received her Bachelor of Arts in 1976, with honors from the University of Chicago. She then earned her Ph.D in Social Work from Tulane University in 1990.
After working for Arizona State (1998-2004), Eastern Washington (2004-2008), Boise State (2008-2014), and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (2014-2015), Lavitt was offered the job of Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at UWT. She accepted and moved to Tacoma in December.
Upon moving into town the first thing she did was sell her car. She loves to walk and see the sights of downtown Tacoma. She frequently admires the view from her office—located in GWP—which overlooks the grand staircase and has a direct view of the cable-stayed 21st St. Bridge and the iconic Tacoma Dome, which was covered with a thin layer of fog on this cold and windy day.
“The position itself was of interest to me. I wanted to get a job like this that had a strong community base,” says Lavitt. She enjoys the smaller size of the UWT campus. “It’s easier—relatively speaking—to get your arms around the academic system at this scale.”
When asked about how her time at UWT has been thus far, Lavitt replied quickly with, “I love it! The look and feel of the campus and the way it is embedded into downtown Tacoma is unique.”
Lavitt describes the students of UWT as scrappy, just like the city. “In some places [universities] the ‘big vision’ comes from up high and it is then adopted; not here. The bottom-up approach is used here to make sure there is a positive learning experience.”
While Lavitt believes that UWT now has a couple of proven leaders (herself and Chancellor Pagano) she also believes the university has a lot of growing to do. “People really underestimate the power of engagement—the connection you feel to a place, having goals that matter—in success,” says Lavitt.
Lavitt says that the university seems too spread out for its size, so she plans to integrate faculty more into a team-like role. “Sometimes I feel like I am on a scavenger hunt on this campus,” says Lavitt. “Staff, faculty, and students need to start acting more as a team. I need to find easy ways for students to engage faculty. I think it is a call to leaders to create multiple entry points.”