Q&A with Dean Kelly Chandler-Olcott: Building on a Legacy in Education

School of Education Dean Kelly Chandler-Olcott has a family history in the field of education that goes back generations. She continues to build on that storied legacy with her appointment to the deanship earlier this year.

kelly chandler olcott teachingFor Chandler-Olcott, it was the right time to pursue the top leadership role in her school: The School of Education has undergone a thoughtful redesign in concert with the development and launch of the University’s Academic Strategic Plan, which is now being implemented across campus and inside the school.

“In addition to being inspired by my colleagues’ bravery around embracing change, I wanted to be an integral part of enacting the vision that’s coalescing from our Universitywide academic strategic planning process,” Chandler-Olcott says.

In this Syracuse University News Q&A, Chandler-Olcott talks about her career in teaching and academic leadership, what she’s most excited about in her new role and a brief mention of her time in the world of drag car racing.

Tell us about the academic and professional journey that brought you to this point.

I started my professional career as a high school English and social studies teacher in my native state of Maine, where the women in my family have been public school teachers and administrators for four generations. I went back to graduate school to learn more about how to teach reading to adolescents and discovered that I found working with teachers in learning collectives to be even more compelling. I’ve combined those interests by designing programming for youth that I have then studied in collaboration with area educators and my own students.

This fall marks my 25th anniversary on the Syracuse faculty. I came for what I thought would be a year—intent on moving on to what I thought would be a more glamorous place—and fell in love with the area and the University. I never left, and I’ve never regretted that.

What inspired you to make the shift from faculty scholar to academic leader?

I’ve held a number of administrative positions over my career, including department chair and associate dean for research. I’ve never exactly sought them out, but I tend to see the world as a problem solver—to say, “We should fix that,” rather than, “Someone else should fix that”—and I think that stance tends to propel people into leadership roles. As dean, I miss teaching, but I’ve figured out that planning for meetings is just another form of instructional design, which is a comfort.

As you begin in your new post, what are you most excited about?

I’m excited about a lot of things! One new initiative that has my brain buzzing is an emerging collaboration that we hope will offer a first-of-its-kind inclusive study abroad experience in Florence, for students matriculated in our degree programs as well as those enrolled in InclusiveU, the largest and most comprehensive postsecondary program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Looking at academic priorities, what are the greatest opportunities ahead for the School of Education?

The school has done a lot of thoughtful, collaborative and equity-focused redesigning of its structures over the past several years. This coming year is a crucial one in terms of implementing those changes and helping them to take deep root. That’s hard work, but it’s essential.

In five years, what do you hope to have achieved as dean?

In five years, I hope the School of Education will be strongly identified, on and beyond campus, with our three signature areas of distinction: inclusive and antiracist pedagogy and practice; digital pedagogy and practice; and experiential pedagogy and practice. I hope we’ll be robustly enrolled with strong students who came to us with interests well-aligned with those areas. And I hope we’ll be working smoothly in our “one school” configuration, with some of our previously fragmented and siloed structures a distant memory.

What advice do you have for our incoming students, both undergraduate and graduate?

If you can, interact with faculty and staff in person when you need something. Email is great, but don’t over-rely on it to get things done if you have other options.

Quick questions

  1. Kindle/e-reader or old-school books? Both!
  2. Movies or series? Series (“The Offer” was a recent favorite.)
  3. Take out or dine in? Favorite cuisine? Take out. Nina’s Italian restaurant in Chittenango is a gem.
  4. Museums or theater? Museums.
  5. Ocean, lake or mountains? Domestic or abroad? R&R or adventure? Lake most of the time, domestic so far, but abroad more soon, I hope, R&R.
  6. Night owl or early riser? Early riser.
  7. Favorite season? Fall.
  8. Something about you no one would expect? As a child, I spent my weekends in the pit crew for my father, who drove on the drag race car circuit across New England and the Maritime provinces.