MCLA undergoing changes near the top

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NORTH ADAMS — After nearly 40 years of service and connection to the institution, Denise Richardello is retiring from a top post at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, bringing the experience of working with six college presidents with her.

"Each president I've worked for has challenged me in news ways," said the executive vice president, an MCLA alumna who began her career as an admissions office representative.

"Each one has built on the work of the previous president, through different styles and different priorities. From that I've learned how to put MCLA forward as the best institution it can be."

Richardello, who was given an honorary doctor of public service degree at the college's May 12 commencement ceremony, was credited for working across a wide swath of divisions and initiatives. This, according to her commencement bio, included "the planning, direction, and oversight of the enrollment management and external relations division, which includes functions related to student recruitment, financial aid, communications and marketing, and human resources."

Richardello said that since she began working at the college, there has been an increasing need to proactively and assertively tout the institution to attract and retain students, faculty and staff.

"That's the biggest change from my first five years to now. It's a highly competitive market — you just don't go to a college fair and throw your view book down [to get students to enroll.] You really have to work with families now. MCLA has to address student needs in the best interest for the students," Richardello said.

"Colleges also have to distinguish themselves, and it's our responsibility to refine that message."

During her tenure, she said, the college has made changes, such as building new student housing and offering a range of living arrangement, from cohorts of same majors to townhouse-style options. There have been numerous facilities upgrades and marketing initiatives that recruit students from surrounding states like New York and Connecticut, in addition to Eastern Massachusetts.

More recently, there have been changes to campus policies, she said, like making MCLA a nonsmoking campus, and addressing the issue of having animals on campus.

"My [current] role has always been to help facilitate between policy and practice, looking at students' needs and what's in the university's best interest," Richardello said.

But with her departure June 30, roles and responsibilities are being restructured on campus, with new hires and changes among the six executive staff roles in the president's Cabinet. Additional changes in administrative and leadership roles on campus result from a mix of retirements, career changes and the creation of new roles.

A year after his official inauguration, MCLA President James F. Birge has announced that there will no longer be an administrator with the title of executive vice president at the college. Richardello's responsibilities underneath that role will instead be delegated to other offices.

One of the people absorbing Richardello's work is Director of Admissions Gina Puc. She is being promoted to a new hybrid title of dean of enrollment management and community relations.

Birge said he felt Puc's work in admissions, along with her work as Strategic Planning Steering Committee co-chair with Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Adrienne Wootters, made her a qualified candidate for this position. He said Puc will be more directly involved with "the day-to-day operations of recruitment."

In addition to Richardello's departure, Vice President of Academic Affairs Cynthia F. Brown, who had also served as interim president before Birge's arrival — will also be leaving the college. A search was launched in February, and succeeding her will be Emily Williams, who has been serving as vice provost for curriculum and assessment at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

"She's new to us, but she knows the public liberal arts culture so well," Birge said of Williams. A search committee narrowed the pool from 80 to 10 applicants before selecting four finalists, guided by a seven-page prospectus for the position. Williams is expected to arrive on campus in mid-July.

Molly Fannon Williams, who has been serving as interim vice president for institutional advancement, has also finished her term. As of June 1, MCLA alumnus Robert "Bob" Ziomek, who has previously served as the director of major and planned gifts at Western New England University, has taken on the role as a permanent position.

Remaining in their positions will be Lawrence "Larry" R. Behan, head of administration and finance; Vice President of Student Affairs Catherine B. Holbrook, and Monica Joslin, dean of academic affairs.

Birge said that additional administrative departures this academic year included retiring Fiscal Affairs Director Laura "Laurie" Brown, and Division of Graduate and Continuing Education Associate Dean Howard "Jake" Eberwein III. College spokeswoman Bernadette Alden said MCLA is hiring a replacement for Brown.

Eberwein, who left in December to take on a role as the part-time superintendent for the Lee-Tyringham Public School Union 29, is succeeded by Paul Petritis, who began Monday.

Birge noted that a new position — chief diversity officer — went to Christopher MacDonald-Dennis, former dean of multicultural life at Macalaster College in Minnesota. The position was posted in the fall, and MacDonald-Dennis arrived on campus in February.

"The position emerged from a variety of dialogues we've been having since 2016, when we talk about diversity and inclusion," Birge said. "Our student population is very diverse, and in our strategic planning it became very evident the need to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion here."

With changes to the academic course roster, ranging from the fields of public health to communications, Birge said there will be an addition of at least a dozen new faculty for the start of the 2018-19 academic year.

The MCLA president noted that one of the college's challenges in recruiting and retaining staff is keeping competitive in its offerings within a state and region dense with employment opportunities in higher education.

"We lose faculty to selective, elite institutions," Birge said.

He also said that he hopes the state will step up funding for public higher education to make sure state institutions can stay competitive by making sure students have access to "highly skilled, qualified faculty."

Aside from having new faces on campus, Birge said he hopes the transitions with new leaders will be seamless.

This summer, Birge said, he'll convene a retreat among staff to get better acquainted with one another and with the college's latest strategic planning agenda, which spans from 2017 to 2022.


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