TMCC’s Liberal Arts division, which is composed of the English, Humanities and the Visual and Performing Arts Departments, welcomes Natalie Russell as its new Dean. Russell has deep ties to not only the institution but the community, and brings with her a lifetime of experience as a communicator, educator and administrator. Yet, Russell’s journey to academic leadership was not exactly linear: an international affairs major with a French minor, Russell began her professional career working in a French bank located in San Francisco.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after college… But, I’ve always been interested in diverse cultures,” she said. The opportunity to work in a multinational corporation enabled Russell to utilize her skills in French while developing her knowledge and skill sets in administrative roles. After a few years, however, the position wasn’t as fulfilling as she thought it would be, and she started toying with the idea of continuing her education. In what, however, was the question.
It wasn’t until she helped a colleague to write papers for an undergraduate degree that another opportunity to grow professionally emerged. “My friend was a returning student and a non-native speaker of English, and as I helped her with her essays, I realized that I actually love to help people, and I love writing—those were always strengths of mine,” she said.
Russell began researching graduate programs in English and came across a Master of Arts program in English with a focus on Composition at San Francisco State University. Although teaching hadn’t been on Russell’s professional radar, the program opened up classroom spaces to her and she found herself pursuing not just an advanced degree, but also teaching as a profession. “The program really set us up to be successful teachers,” she said. “And I found that I loved it.”
Russell taught at San Francisco State University for four years before an opportunity to teach in a tenure-track position at TMCC—and in her hometown—opened. It was an opportunity in which Russell could thrive: in addition to teaching composition courses, she would eventually take on additional responsibilities, which included serving as English Program Coordinator and eventually becoming the Department Chair.
“I felt like I was suited for those administrative roles, and that was where I wanted to be,” she said. “I feel like I can empathize with instructors because of my teaching experience. And that’s what I love: being a positive leader and a unifying force, and that’s what I hope to do.”
Yet, in 2016, another opportunity for professional growth would take Russell to Pasadena City College where she would serve as Dean of the Languages and ESL Division for five and a half years. “I’m grateful that I had that experience as a Dean… and then to be able to come back home yet again,” she said. While in Southern California, she also completed almost two years of doctorate work in Higher Education Leadership at Azusa Pacific University, and she plans to finish her EdD in the next few years.
Building Community Partnerships
For Dean Russell, the ability to empathize with teaching faculty and to create harmony across a large and multidisciplinary division directs her vision in this new role at TMCC. “I saw this as a great opportunity for me to learn more about humanities as well as the Visual and Performing Arts, because those are areas I haven’t overseen in my previous roles,” she said. A frequent attendee and audience member to art openings and performances, Russell is looking forward to supporting disciplines that were hit hard during COVID-19 when public gatherings were put on hold.
“The pandemic was just so damaging in so many ways to our sense of community as well as to our psyches. I think it also helped us to remember what’s truly important, like music and art that feeds our soul, especially during these difficult times,” she said. Beyond their expressive and cathartic capacities, however, Russell sees the departments in her division as vital pathways offering students opportunities to access and hone critical thinking, communication, language and other fundamental skills that enrich our lives both as individuals and as communities.
Fostering ongoing community partnerships is another highlight for Russell who noted that both the partnership with the Oddie District for Performing Arts and the recent partnership with the Grand Sierra Resort and the Communications programs as the first two of many she hopes to cultivate between TMCC and other community entities moving forward.
“The fact that we are establishing relationships in the community—through the Oddie District and potentially having a theater here on campus through the EastView project—I think those are two exciting developments that I’m thrilled to be here for and to help make happen,” she said, mentioning that future partnerships may be on the horizon for TMCC’s English as a Second Language (ESL) Program as well.
“Building on those kinds of partnerships and getting some more recognition in the community… our workforce needs the skills that liberal arts majors have,” she said.
Future Opportunities to Support Student Success
Among the many highlights of this diverse and vibrant division, Russell is excited to move forward on building the 3+1 Graphic Arts and Media Technologies (GAMT) bachelor’s degree program, made possible through a close collaborative partnership between TMCC and Nevada State College. “The fact that we have Nevada State College faculty on the Dandini Campus and working so closely with us and our students says a lot about how important the relationships we have in the system as well as in the community. I hope we can continue to build those kinds of partnerships and get students transferring, or into the workforce, wherever they want and need to be.”
Developing partnerships between ESL, the Adult Basic Education Program and other community-based services are possibilities that Russell would like to explore. However, before expanding, she sees her primary role as one that supports the ongoing success of students, faculty and staff in her division. Several faculty in her division will participate in the pilot advising program that not only assists Academic Advising, but also creates a unique mentoring relationship between faculty and students.
“We know that when students have a contact on campus, they are more likely to succeed. Our instructors do that so well in the classroom, but to also have these relationships outside of the classroom is going to strengthen our college community,” she said.
Despite the challenges and unknowns moving forward in this new role, Dean Russell sees her division as diverse, relevant and one that’s necessary to student success. Much of this comes from the incredible strength and dedication of faculty, who are practitioners and professionals in their respective disciplines as well as educators.
“I really respect our faculty—their creative and artistic abilities and how hard they work to be artists and teachers.. I already have this deep respect for all the work they all do across the arts, humanities and English. It’s going to be fun to be a part of that energy and talent,” she said.
For more information about the Division of Liberal Arts, contact their office at 775-674-7937.