Michelle Bata is a relative newcomer to Clark University, but she’s already making history of a sort. As associate dean and the first-ever director of the LEEP Center, Bata is working to help structure the student’s academic journey through the prism of LEEP (Liberal Education and Effective Practice), Clark’s pioneering model of higher education that integrates life-changing world, workplace and personal experiences with a robust liberal arts curriculum. The Class of 2017 will be the first to be fully engaged in a LEEP-directed experience throughout their years at Clark.
Bata arrived in February to take the helm of the newly created center, inspired by Clark’s reputation as a school with not only a strong liberal arts education, but one that encourages students to take risks.
“That’s very exciting when you’re thinking about a student’s tenure at an institution,” she says. “Other schools will focus on certain elements of a LEEP-like experience — strong undergraduate research, or strong community service — and what they will do is make a checklist of certain requirements you should have before you graduate. What Clark is trying to do is more than a checklist; it’s a holistic approach to a student’s undergraduate career that links everything in a way that is highly individualized and also very forward-thinking.”
“When I read the description for the director’s position, I thought that this has the potential to be transformative. LEEP is such an innovative idea, and the description made so much sense, I thought, ‘Yes. This needs to happen.’”
‘Imagine what a Clarkie can do with all these resources: close advising with faculty who really know them and see them develop over time — it’s a recipe for success.’
Bata comes to Clark from Fordham University, where she was assistant dean and director of undergraduate research. She led the college’s efforts as part of the University’s Career Planning and Professional Development Task Force, which devised academic and life-building plans for undergraduate liberal arts students to achieve success at each college career stage. She also worked to revitalize the college’s advising programs, launch department-specific career pilot programs, develop a comprehensive undergraduate research program, and create a new position in the college, the director of retention and student success.
Prior to joining the Dean’s Office staff, Bata was a faculty member in Fordham’s sociology department, where she chaired the graduate school and fellowship committee and taught a variety of courses. She received her bachelor’s degree in sociology and Hispanic studies from Boston College, and earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology at The University of Arizona.
Bata has been meeting with faculty, administration and students to understand the kinds of learning and research going on here and to align the efforts of the LEEP Center with those of the departments.
“I see the LEEP Center as both a destination and an active player in the Clark community,” she says. “As a destination I want it to be a place where any student can come in and ask any question related to their tenure at the school, anything from ‘I don’t know what to do with my life,’ to ‘What should my major be?’ to ‘I know exactly what I want to do, help me get there.’ And someone here will help them.”
She says LEEP Center staff will work to direct students to the appropriate resources, which will be varied. It may mean connecting a student with a particular professor to work on a LEEP or research project, encouraging the student to take a series of courses or engage in a community-service experience, or establishing contact between a student and an alumnus in a particular field.
“I hope we can be a bridge or a liaison between the different offices and constituencies,” she says. “That’s my vision for the LEEP Center. Of course, the devil is in the details. But there is so much enthusiasm surrounding LEEP and the LEEP Center that I think people will be very willing to work with us.”
Among the programs that will fall under the purview of the LEEP Center are Career Services, Study Abroad, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Community Engagement and Volunteering, the Writing Center, and all internships.
“The beauty of the LEEP Center is that one person will know your entire history. They’ll know your goals, and they’ll actively work with you to make sure everything you do makes sense for you,” Bata says. She notes that in his or her time at Clark, a student will be paired with a faculty adviser, a LEEP adviser and a peer adviser; opportunities will be tailored for each student.
“The trend in higher ed, particularly those schools that are chasing rankings, is to try to attract high-performing students. That’s somewhat disingenuous: is the school really creating great students or would those students be great anywhere? By giving all Clarkies these opportunities, we really have the opportunity to create fantastic students.”