Nancy Aries: Getting Students Excited About Education
What drove Aries to a career in higher education? “I come from an academic family,” she’ll tell you proudly. And though her own roles may have changed over the years—chairing departments, helping to form others, taking a year to oversee things from CUNY’s central office—she has always considered herself a professor first. At the core of her work is an honest concern about how students fare. “You want students to be totally excited about their education,” she says, “and I’m here to help make that happen.”
Perhaps this natural inclination to foster students stems from her focus on social welfare. For a period after her undergraduate studies, Aries worked for the Massachusetts Department of Public Welfare, helping to secure contraceptive services for low-income women in the pre—Roe vs. Wade era. After the ruling, her role expanded to include oversight of the state’s regulations on abortion services. The work generated larger questions around health care and reproductive rights, and Aries returned to graduate school to further examine what she saw as “the attempt to fragment the way women receive care.”
This work was the basis for extended research around the policies of health care institutions. Her textbook Policy and Politics for Nurses and Other Healthcare Professionals, a collection of co-edited and co-authored essays, was published in 2011 and is being adopted widely in nursing schools across the country. The idea behind the book, she says, is to help nurses better understand the institutional choices that are made in hospitals and other health care settings beyond the clinical aspects they’re trained in.
Today, in addition to continuing to teach at the College, Aries serves as the director of Baruch’s Honors Program, comprised of the Baruch Scholars Program, the Provost Scholars Program, and the Baruch students in the CUNY-wide Macaulay Honors Program. Working directly with undergraduates is a relatively new venture for Aries, who did most of her teaching at the graduate level. But much like her role as a professor, her goal in this directorship is to “let students know that college should be more than just a collection of classes.” The Honors Program accomplishes this by giving students a variety of opportunities to supplement their coursework, but Aries is a proponent of many that are open to all: “Study abroad, write a thesis, put on an open mic night, be involved in student government, be an ambassador for incoming students . . . I want students to see college as a special time and to make the most of it,” she says.
In 2008 Aries spent a year getting to know the other side of higher education—private colleges and universities—as an American Council on Education Fellow. This prestigious fellowship takes on approximately 30 faculty and staff members who have been nominated by their home colleges to learn from the practices of another college campus. She was placed at Tufts University, where she worked under the mentorship of the college president and provost to bolster her understanding of undergraduate education. Of specific interest was how Tufts and several universities fostered collaborative science programs.
Following the fellowship, Aries spent a year as interim university dean of undergraduate education at CUNY. Both experiences prepared her well to return to an administrative role at Baruch that serves undergraduates. She has even taught a Freshman Seminar course for students in the Honors Program and is enjoying being a part of their Baruch beginnings.
Where to from here? Aries is invested in working collaboratively with outside educational institutions to foster opportunities for Baruch students—and is continually studying what makes these institutions function. Her research interests today truly reflect her career background. “The kinds of choices being made in health care are very similar to those being made by policymakers in higher education. You can map out the parallel trajectories looking at questions around privatization, expansion, diversity,” she notes. “Both fields are struggling with the same large social questions of access, quality, and efficiency, and that’s what really interests me.”
—Adrienne Preuss (’07)