“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill
For Michelle Velazquez Mesnard, change is her job. This summer Mesnard was appointed as the newly-created Associate Vice President for Academic Initiatives, and while her new job will involve supporting academic and faculty development at Union College, her primary role will be change.
“Union College’s strategic plan calls for the school to add at least two new programs in the next five years,” explained Vinita Sauder, president of Union College. “We believe this should be a priority because it will not only draw more students to Union, but will strengthen the already excellent academic experience we provide for our current students.”
The college created the new position specifically to spearhead the development of new programs at Union, and college leadership found the right candidate just a couple of floors up in the Everett Dick Administration Building. Michelle Mesnard, who has been an associate professor of communication at Union for 13 years, and most recently chair of the Division of Humanities, saw this new position as a great opportunity to use her skill and follow her passion.
“It was last year, when Dr. George Gibson retired, that I realized I enjoy developing programs for our campus,” said Mesnard of the search to replace the longtime history and economics professor. “We were in that process of searching for that right person to fill Dr. Gibson’s role. We ended up with Christopher Banks. He brought an expertise and a major to our campus that we’d never had before. The experience of hiring him, working with him, and developing a new program was so much fun for me. It’s exciting to see a new innovation that I hope will be a positive addition to our campus.”
Their efforts led to several new class offerings over the next two years, including History of the Middle East and History of Latin America, and a new major—International Relations.
What’s next for Union?
To create new majors, Mesnard will look at a variety of factors. “I will be doing a lot of research to see if it’s the right choice,” she explained. “Is this the perfect fit for Union College? Does it fit our culture? Does it fit the marketplace right now? Is it what the marketplace will demand when students graduate?”
And at the moment, the demands of the marketplace seem to be centered in health sciences, where Union already has two successful programs—nursing and physician assistant studies. “I would not be surprised if that’s the direction we go. Health Sciences is one of the biggest markets demanding employees right now, so it’s big for us.”
The basics of this process, said Mesnard, will include making a case for the program, market analysis, budget analysis, curriculum development, and identifying accreditation requirements. “But that is all preliminary,” she added. Union is also exploring partnerships with other colleges to create new programs on campus.
Union College, according to Mesnard, is one of the most receptive campuses for this kind of endeavor. “I think Union is unique. When you have to accomplish something here, it’s usually easier to do than in most other colleges. Our processes and our culture tend to be a little less difficult to navigate. We’re smaller and our culture helps a lot.”
Following a calling
A longtime champion of helping students discover their own God-given calling, Mesnard has seen Him lead her career in preparation for this moment, just as she has coached and encouraged so many students to do the same.
A graduate of Pacific Union College, Mesnard got her start working in the public relations department after graduation. “I worked for a wonderful man named Malcolm Maxwell,” Mesnard said of then PUC president. “He was great to work with because he understood the importance of public relations. And I remember him saying on several occasions, ‘Michelle, you need to be teaching.’”
Mesnard then decided to earn a master’s degree in public relations from Golden Gate University in San Francisco and was ready when Union ultimately came to her looking for a communications professor.
“Really, public relations is about problem and opportunity solving,” she explained. “So in some ways, I see designing new programs and developing PR campaigns as similar. There are differences, but there’s research involved with both—you put together strategies on how to develop the program and you evaluate your program, just like you do in a campaign. Communication and relationships are important to the process. I think my background will be very helpful.”
As part of Academic Administration, Mesnard will report to Malcolm Russell, vice president for Academic Administration. When she is not developing new programs, she will work on academic and faculty development, and help students who are on academic probation.
“We are thankful for Michelle Mesnard’s passion for creating new programs, and we know her experience makes her well suited to help Union continue to add to our wide array of degree programs,” said Sauder. “We want every Adventist student to have access to an Adventist education, and more degree offerings means we will be able to meet the needs of even more students.”
To learn more about Union College’s academic offerings, visit www.ucollege.edu/academics.
By Kaylin Thurber, student writer