Purdue Profiles: Emily Allen

November 17, 2015  


Emily Allen

Emily Allen, associate dean for academic affairs in Purdue's Honors College. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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Emily Allen loves the swirl of ideas that surround her as associate dean for academic affairs in Purdue's Honors College, and especially she cherishes the chance to devise courses that let that swirl happen for -- and in part stir from -- the college's sharp, motivated students.

Allen has moved from being an honors undergraduate at UCLA to being associate professor of English and past honors director in the College of Liberal Arts to a place where she can teach, design, innovate, collaborate and thrive.

What is your role as associate dean for academic affairs for Purdue's Honors College?

I mostly work on curriculum and course development. I work with the Honors College Faculty Governance Committee (which has representatives from each disciplinary college) to set curricular policy for the college. And I work with faculty both inside the college and all over campus to develop new, innovative, interdisciplinary courses. Since the Honors College operates as a pedagogical laboratory -- developing and testing new teaching strategies -- I get to work with visionary scholars and teachers. I also get to teach. I keep my hand in by taking a section of our first-year course (The Evolution of Ideas), both because I want to see how our redesigns are working and because I get a lot of energy from being with students. They remind me why I do this.

You directed the College of Liberal Arts Honors Program before moving to the Honors College. What led you to get involved with honors programs, and how did you move to the Honors College?

It was a completely natural progression, and it started a long time ago. In 1982, I started as a freshman at UCLA in the second cohort of its interdisciplinary Honors Collegium. It was a thrilling experience, and I still remember the wonderful, hands-on course work. I had small classes and great professors, and I loved every minute of it. It was that experience that led me to seek out honors teaching after I became a professor.

In 1999, I had one of the Lilly Retention Initiative grants to create an interdisciplinary honors course; it was this initiative that led to the formation of the University Honors Program, which later led to the Honors College. I taught in the UHP regularly before I took the directorship of CLA Honors, and through it all I was drawn to the intensity of the intellectual experience in the honors classroom, the excitement of talking about ideas with eager and curious students who like to take risks and leaps. I love the community that honors creates, which is one of the reasons I moved to the Honors College: the opportunity to make a university-wide community that traverses disciplinary boundaries. I truly believe that the ability to collaborate across those boundaries is going to be critical to our future.

How does the Honors College emphasize a range of learning approaches some call "high-impact practices"? What are some of those and why are they valuable?

High-impact practices require active participation; they involve students not only in their own learning but also in human networks that motivate and support learning. Our courses all revolve around active learning of some kind, from discussion and project-based courses to service learning that takes our students into the local community. Transformative pedagogy isn't a one-size-fits-all strategy; it's a group of strategies, all designed to produce the most effective learning environment for students and to allow students to have a great deal of agency in their own learning. We encourage students to reflect on what they are learning and why, creating a space of critical reflection that is crucial for intellectual and personal development. We've now got decades of research that show that experiences like residential living-learning communities, study abroad, undergraduate research, faculty and peer mentoring, project- or community-based courses, and collaborative, team-based work increase student success.

What do you enjoy more, teaching or being an administrator? Or do you enjoy both equally?

Teaching is my true love. I wanted this particular administrative job because it is all in support of teaching, and it allows me to create new opportunities for teachers and students. I like to think that I've had a hand in shaping a very special place, where great teachers and students from all over Purdue come together to develop new ideas and teaching strategies that will in turn shape the future of the University. I feel really fortunate to be right here, right now.

Writer: Greg McClure, 765-496-9711, gmcclure@purdue.edu 

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