Professor Andrea Tracy appointed to academic dean


Evan Hein

Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Andrea Tracy `99 has taught at Grinnell College since 2009.

Molly Wilcoxson, Staff Writer

When looking at the Grinnell College student body, Andrea Tracy, associate professor of psychology, sees one predominant problem — stress. And now, as she prepares to assume the position of the associate dean of student academic life, she hopes to tackle the issue head-on.

Tracy will officially assume the associate dean position on July 1, replacing Cynthia Hansen, professor of anthropology, who stepped down from the position to take a sabbatical from the College during the fall 2023 semester. Following the opening of the position, Tracy submitted an application to Beronda Montgomery, vice president of academic affairs and dean of the College, to which she was then appointed.

The role is one of three positions intended for current faculty. The associate dean of curriculum and academic programs has been Tim Arner, associate professor of English, for the past five years. The second dean position will also have a staff turnover this July — Caleb Elfenbein, associate professor of religious studies and history, will be replacing Jin Feng, professor of Chinese and Japanese.

Tracy said that she chose to apply for this role because it aligned with her academic and personal interests, and she wants to see change in the way student academic life is managed. 

“I have been feeling like I would want to move that work forward in a very different way,” she said. 

The designated roles of the associate dean of student academic life position are not set in stone. Although each position has its own separate title, a choice made by Anne Harris during her time as the College’s interim president, their responsibilities often overlap or are dependent upon the interests of the deans themselves. The official duties assigned to the three dean positions from the 2021-22 academic year are available on SharePoint and accessible to all Grinnell College students.

During this year, the student academic life position presided over several things including, but not limited to, Mentored Advanced Projects (MAPs), the Science Learning Center, math and computer science labs, independent study curriculums, peer mentoring, department assessment and academic software requests. The dean also serves as the chair of the Committee on Academic Standing (CAS).

Tracy said that, while she is unsure of her specific duties until she assumes the position, she is confident that she will be contributing to CAS, academic advising and faculty assessments. She said that her approach to the role is to attempt to find a balance between managing student and faculty burnout while also efficiently and successfully managing the institution’s required functions.

“Prior to the pandemic, we were seeing a lot of increasing amounts of stress and mental health issues, and faculty feeling overworked in their positions,” Tracy said. “And that started before the pandemic, but it became much more evident [throughout].”

She also said, “What I would like to see is changes to the way we do things that can mediate some of this, and focus on what we really want to get done in terms of development. But we know that there are also all of these things we have to do to keep the institution running.”

She said that finding the happy medium is not easy because important aspects of doing so involve making people feel like their work is important and asking people to contribute in ways that are respectful of their time.

“We feel less stressed and overworked if we feel like what we’re doing is valuable,” Tracy said.

Tracy also said that she wanted to ensure that regular assessment of policies occur so that people feel as though they are getting something out of their education. Furthermore, she said she wants to ensure that there is a strong intersection between technology and academics so things can be done effectively.

At the end of the day, according to Tracy, the goal is for both students and faculty to feel as though they are getting the most out of their Grinnell College education.

“We want to make sure that people are moving forward through their trajectory at Grinnell in the most effective way for them,” Tracy said.