In her 16 years at Newman University, Jill Fort, Ph.D., has held many roles at the institution, from faculty member to dean. This summer she added a new leadership position to her resume.
Effective June 1, Fort began serving as Newman’s interim vice president for academic advancement (VPAA), filling a gap created upon the departure of the school’s former provost.
Newman President Kathleen S. Jagger recently made the announcement to the community.
“I appreciate Dr. Fort’s willingness to take on this important role and am confident that with the support of the other academic deans and the associate VPAA, she will guide Academic Affairs effectively through the next several months of transitions,” Jagger said.
Fort believes she is prepared for her new position.
“I see it mainly as administrative. I’ve been a division chair. I’ve been a dean and now I’m the interim (VPAA). At each stage, it’s just more and more people that I’m essentially responsible for, so you really have to listen and communicate.
“I think communication is key. The more I can communicate with people, I think the easier it becomes … that’s just my thing.”
Collaboration with Colleagues
In addition to strong communication skills, Fort brings a desire to collaborate with colleagues to positively impact the Newman community, especially after they battled through an extremely challenging year due to the pandemic.
“I really want to work with faculty to get their input and buy-in to find ways we can foster a positive working environment and continue to make Newman the experience the best we possibly can for faculty and students.
“I love working here. … I love the people that I work with. You have to really keep and maintain those relationships so anything we can do to bolster the relationships and make them better, I think is great,” Fort added.
Although teaching is limited during the summer, Academic Affairs is extremely active right now due to several major projects. It is in the middle of the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) Year 4 Assurance documentation, along with an accreditation process for online classes and other programs.
“Everyone has been involved in HLC and been very forthcoming and helpful. … All of us have really come together and banded together for HLC,” Fort said.
When first approached by Jagger about the possibility of filling the interim vice president position Fort was enthusiastic but cautious.
A Lot Going on in School of Business
“I was excited to be involved in the position, to continue having a positive impact on Newman’s future. But, I was also a little leery just in the sense that we’ve got a lot going on in the School of Business.
“We’re launching the DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) program this summer and several new certificates in our master’s program so it’s super exciting right now, but this is just something I want to do so I went for it,” Fort said.
She sees the interim VPAA job as an expansion of her duties as a dean.
“Being the interim VP is more administrative, which is what I was doing in the dean role, just ups the level of responsibility. Rather than monitoring the School of Business, now I monitor the entire academic side.
“It’s a little bit more daunting but we have quality people set in motion over there (in the business school) and I know that I can trust them and that they’re going to do a great job. If this interim position lasts for a couple months up to a year, I still want to be able to be involved in the school of business and what’s going on. That’s still really my home,” Fort added.
While Fort is filling the vice president post, Newman’s business school will be led by an interim dean who has yet to be named.
The university will begin its search for its new VPAA later this summer and the search committee, chaired by Sister Therese Wetta, ASC, hopes to have a candidate in place by the beginning of the spring semester.
Meanwhile, the wide variety of work required to run the academic side has been a team effort. In addition to Fort’s administrative focus, the other academic deans are helping with assorted important duties. Lori Steiner, Ph.D., dean of the arts and science school, is working on the budget. Jessica Bird, the interim dean for the School of Education and Social Work, is leading the deans council. Father Joseph Gile, S.T.D., handled commencement responsibilities in May. Academic Affairs Associate Vice President Rosemary Niedens has also contributed greatly by answering questions and serving as a resource and providing a historic perspective to the varied work assignments for the area.
“There’s always been this sense of family, you know, pulling for each other and maybe that becomes even a stronger bond. … We just have really quality people and they’re stepping up,” Fort said.