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Assistant to the Director
Author: Jean Arbaugh McKee
Photographer: Photo courtesy of Laura Schuyler
Nearly 20 years ago, Laura Schuyler made the transition from the banking world to the world of higher education, and hasn’t looked back since. After a few years in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions here at Michigan, Laura has spent the last 14 years in the Sweetland Center for Writing and is the Assistant to the Director. She seems to thrive in the academic world that is LS&A.
Anne Ruggles Gere, the Director of Sweetland, confirmed what her predecessor told her: “One of the best things about my…job [is] working with Laura Schuyler. That claim proves to be true every day.” Colleagues have praised her for her “sparkling, generous, and giving presence at our university,” as well as a “behind-the-scenes presence” that has contributed to the Sweetland program’s growth and success over the years. “She conscientiously works to solve problems, coordinating the interest of Sweetland and of students,” wrote Paul Barron, a lecturer in the Sweetland program, in his nomination letter. “Yet every time [she] gives the appearance that her work is effortless.”
Laura oversees the organization of the Dissertation Writing Institute and Dissertation Writing Groups that Sweetland hosts, a responsibility that her nominators all mentioned. These programs create communities of graduate students across LS&A who are typically in the later stages of writing their dissertations. Many of the students that participate report “how crucial Laura’s kind but firm hand is in helping keep them at their desks working,” Barron says. In 2008, the program expanded to house 24 fellows in the Writing Institute, which placed “greater emphasis on Laura’s job to coordinate and manage so many critical aspects of this program,” wrote Louis Cicciarelli, another lecturer in the Sweetland program. While Laura credits her organizational skills for nearly everything she does, she also notes how wonderful it is to see the turn-around in students who participate in these programs. Their rate of work production increases, as does their confidence in themselves, but Laura is really amazed at how they all “learn to work as a community when they didn’t think they needed it” in writing their dissertations.
Though Laura does work mainly with graduate students and faculty, she has enjoyed branching out into the world of undergraduate studies with the introduction of Sweetland’s academic minor in writing. She has begun marketing the program to attract students and make them aware of the opportunity amongst the many LS&A options.
When Laura is away from work, she enjoys spending time with her friends and family – and her young great-niece in particular. She is the “apple of our eye right now,” Laura says and sees her nearly every week. Supportive and accessible staff and faculty make coming to work that much better, though. Her appreciation of working in a small department is clearly reciprocated by those who work with her: “She is consistently positive about her work, ready with a smile and a cheerful greeting regardless of how many things are stacked up on her desk,” says Gere. With her papers in neat piles on her desk when I arrived, and the warm smile that greeted me, it’s clear that Laura is ready to take on anything that Sweetland needs.
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