Transitions and New Leadership at Western Libraries & the Learning Commons
(L to R) Carmen Werder, Sarah McDaniel, and Shevell Thibou / photos by Bri Schlemmer, courtesy of Western Libraries
As Western moves into a new academic year, the Libraries and the Learning Commons are gaining significant new leadership, with changes precipitated by the retirement of Carmen Werder, who began working at Western in 1984, and who served as the Director of the Learning Commons, the Teaching-Learning Academy (TLA), and Writing Instruction Support (WIS).
“It’s difficult to see such a valued colleague leave Western,” said Dean of Libraries Mark Greenberg. “I wish Carmen a long, happy, and healthy retirement.”
Western Libraries will host a retirement celebration in Werder’s honor and in appreciation for her many contributions later in November—details and date to be announced soon. In the meantime, the Libraries and the Learning Commons are preparing for what lies ahead.
Coming from University of Wisconsin, Madison, Sarah McDaniel has assumed the new position of Director of Teaching & Learning and the Learning Commons. Shevell Thibou, now Assistant Director of the Learning Commons, will also head the Teaching-Learning Academy, and Julie Dugger, who is also faculty in the Department of English, has accepted the position of Director of Writing Instruction Support.
“We make this transition with amazing new leadership,” said Greenberg. “Sarah, Shevell, and Julie each bring incredible expertise and energy to their new roles advancing teaching and learning in Western Libraries.”
Prior to coming to Western, Sarah McDaniel’s work focused on partnerships to transform libraries’ educational roles. She led the University of Wisconsin, Madison Libraries’ Teaching & Learning Programs for nine years, and partnered with the Chancellor’s Office, faculty, and campus and community organizations to establish the Go Big Read campus-community reading program, now in its eighth year.
In addition to leading a twenty-library information literacy program, she expanded the scope of the program to incorporate faculty development and instructional design partnerships, secured campus funding for library e-learning initiatives and co-chaired an Educational Innovation team focused on development of new service models.
As the Director of Teaching & Learning and the Learning Commons here at Western, McDaniel will bring her experience in faculty development, instructional design, and assessment to develop, implement, and assess an integrated teaching and learning program for Western Libraries that engages students and instructors from across the university. She is also a member of the Libraries’ senior leadership team, and will work collaboratively with librarians, staff, student employees, Learning Commons partners, and external stakeholders toward shared goals to advance new teaching and learning initiatives related to the online learning environment, student learning outcomes, and research-writing instruction in support of academic colleges’ curricula.
“I’m looking forward to leading the rich variety of education and outreach programs that library staff at Western are engaged in,” said McDaniel. “I’m particularly excited about the innovative integration of writing and research that’s underway in our teaching and services to students and faculty,” said McDaniel, mentioning as examples both the Hacherl Research & Writing Studio and the Integrated Research & Writing Workshops.
Shevell Thibou is no stranger to the Learning Commons or the TLA, having served as the coordinator over the past four years. The TLA is a dialogue forum engaged in studying the intersections between teaching and learning, with the mission of creating a community of scholars who work together to better understand the existing learning culture, to share that understanding with others, and to enhance the learning environment for everyone.
Werder explained that although the TLA began in 2001 as a temporary structure related to Western’s affiliation with the Carnegie Academy’s Campus Conversations program, it has endured as a place where students, faculty, staff, and community members can come to together to talk about what matters to them, and what matters in the world of teaching and learning, adding that she is optimistic about the future of the TLA.
“I have been truly blessed to be involved with the TLA since its beginnings up to the present, and I am absolutely thrilled to know that Shevell Thibou will be leading it from now on,” said Werder upon her retirement. “In mind, heart, and spirit - Shevell embodies all that is the TLA, and I predict that the best is yet to come.”
Thibou explained she appreciates how much the TLA emphasizes the importance of community, and she is excited about continuing to build community and to advance teaching and learning at Western.
“At times in higher education, we can sometimes create divides between faculty, staff, students, and community members, but in the TLA, the emphasis is on how we are all one,” explained Thibou. “To embody exceptional teaching and learning, everyone has to be a part of that process. The TLA looks at all points of views and perspectives, and that helps us advance teaching and learning, which can only strengthen Western and our community.”
Thibou invites anyone interested in learning more about the TLA to participate in the sessions that begin on Oct. 5th and 6th, adding that fall is a particularly great time to get involved because it is when the TLA will choose its study question, which will be the focus of the TLA’s work the rest of the year. She is also interested in expanding the reach of the TLA by finding a way to meet people where they are.
“As a suggestion from last year’s TLA dialogue sessions and to continue Carmen’s extraordinary work, we will be taking TLA on the road this year,” said Thibou. “We want as many people as possible to come to the TLA sessions, but we also want to reach those who can’t attend so we can get their insights, so that when we say we come from a community of teachers and learners, we are being as inclusive as possible.”
Julie Dugger has accepted a one-year appointment to serve as Director of WIS, and will be working with McDaniel and Thibou throughout the year to direct and further develop support for the program. Dugger has taught writing, literature, and humanities full time for sixteen years as a professor and instructor at four-year universities. She has also taught in the Academic and Professional Writing Program at the University of Chicago, the Young Scholars Program at the Oregon Council for the Humanities, and the English for Speakers of Other Languages curriculum at Crossroads Student Center. She is a former Director of the Core Curriculum at Benedictine University, and her publications include work on literature and politics, utopianism, and popular fiction.
“Julie also holds a long-time teaching appointment in the English Department. We are fortunate to have someone with such a wealth of experience in this important role.” stated McDaniel.
The WIS program is a Learning Commons partner, and provides direct assistance to faculty who are teaching writing intensive courses within their discipline. As Director of WIS, Dugger will be available to offer personalized consultations to faculty on a variety of topics, including writing course syllabi, assignments, response methods, evaluation schemes, and Writing Proficiency (WP) Course requirements.
“Not only is good writing an essential professional and civic skill in itself, but a skilled writer is also a better communicator and critical thinker more generally. I'll be working in this position to ensure that when students look back on their time at WWU, they'll point to writing instruction as one of the most important parts of their education.” said Dugger.
Werder, who was involved with the Learning Commons from its earliest stages in 2010, stated she is very pleased with how things have developed and evolved over the years.
“For my part, I am retiring a very happy person to have been a part of this splendid adventure, and I send my best wishes to all the people that make up the treasure that is the Learning Commons at Western Washington University,” said Werder.
For more information about the Learning Commons, the TLA, WIS, or teaching and learning at Western Libraries and the Learning Commons, please see: https://library.wwu.edu/learning_commons or email firstname.lastname@example.org.