By Su Byron
Emily Heffernan, Ph.D. graduated from New College in 1999. Twenty-one years later, she has come full circle.
Today, Heffernan is an associate professor of biology and environmental studies at New College, and the co-director of the Environmental Studies Program. Since November 2, Heffernan has also served as the College’s interim dean of studies.
Heffernan’s student days give her an insider’s knowledge of New College culture. Although the world has greatly changed since she graduated, she stresses that the school’s core values have remained the same.
“New College is still providing world-class, critical thinkers with the skills to realize their visions and follow their passions,” Heffernan said. “Our academic community is still a culture of caring, communication and mutual support.”
According to Heffernan, that is also a good job description for the work of New College’s dean of studies.
“I’m here to support our students’ needs, and facilitate their intellectual and personal development,” she said.
How does that break down in practice?
In Heffernan’s words, “I help students navigate academic and independent study programs, and forge bonds with other students and faculty. I also connect them with wellness and academic support services.”
Creating a great college experience is part of that responsibility. And, along with the rest of the New College faculty, Heffernan also helps students prepare for graduate school and the world of work after they earn their degrees.
This multifaceted responsibility is never easy, even in the best of times. But the pandemic has made the job even harder.
“Like college students around the world, New College’s students are enduring incredible stress,” Heffernan said. “They’re concerned about the future of the planet, their own health, their families’ health. Navigating a college degree during that? It’s hard! I’m here to make it easier for them.”
To do this, Heffernan holds both in-person and virtual meetings throughout the day.
“Students are digital natives,” she said. “They’ve quickly adapted to Zoom and other virtual platforms.”
Heffernan added, “Our students support each other’s development, both online and in the classroom. New College’s peer-sharing learning model keeps our sense of community strong.”
How does Heffernan maintain her inner peace in these challenging times? Quiet walks on campus are one way.
“I enjoy walking through the edible food forest, visiting the apiary or just enjoying the magnificent bayfront,” she said.
Heffernan also recently started viola lessons on Zoom with Nathan Frantz, an adjunct music instructor at New College.
“Harmony is very important in life,” Heffernan said. “Learning a new musical instrument is the perfect way to do it.”
The New College community also warms her heart.
“I love the way our academic community pulls together and supports each other,” she said. “I’m amazed at the deeply caring people we have at New College. That support system was there for me when I was a student. I’m thrilled to offer the same support for our students today.”
Su Byron is the communications specialist for the New College Foundation.