Humility, Curiosity, and Good Humor: An Interview with Provost Bowen

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Correction: In the original print version, we made an error and identified the Provost as not a member of administration. The Provost is both a member of the administration and the faculty.

When you hear the title Provost, what comes to mind? Some unknown administrative entity perhaps? Or just that person whose emails pop up in your inbox sometimes? I recently had the chance to interview Provost Lauren Bowen to better inform the student body about her role in our community.

“Generally,” Bowen said, “the Provost is the senior academic officer responsible for articulating the academic vision for the College and leads the entire academic vision. … I support the faculty, encourage the faculty, oversee the entire academic division, but I am also responsible more broadly for the entire academic enterprise.”

The Provost is a member of the administration and a professor in the Politics department. As she says, “There isn’t the same line between faculty and administration here as there is in a lot of places. … I guess my favorite part of the job is trouble shooting, problem solving, you know— empowering folks.”

If you’re embarrassed by the fact that you don’t exactly know what the Provost position here at Juniata is, don’t be; Provost Bowen looks at students’ lack of insight into what exactly the Provost does as a testament to her work, saying “The fact that students don’t really know what I do is maybe a good thing because I am quietly helping others do, rather than being out in front. I have helped facilitate a lot of things, but it is not all by myself.”

Now that we know what the Provost does, I wanted to get some insight into what was to come in terms of the new curriculum changes that have been talked about and what students need to know.

Overall, Provost Bowen explained that in addition to a new comprehensive first year experience, which will allow incoming students to be more well-rounded and prepared for the years ahead, there will be new courses that focus on how we know what we know, and to understand how we fit into our world today, both globally and locally.

The capstone program will still be in place for an overall synthesis of academic work, and an exciting new online portfolio will be introduced which will “allow graduates to be able to tell their story about who they are and what they’ve learned,” as Bowen puts it. Excited about the new changes, Bowen explained that faculty has worked hard to rethink the current curriculum, and expresses that “it is a curriculum that is dynamic, that will appeal to contemporary students, and that will also give them the skills and the resources to be able to adapt to whatever career path and be successful.” So what do current students need to know? Provost Bowen says there will be a gradual phasing out of the FISHN system over the next four years. She thinks this transition should go smoothly. Bowen also mentioned that “the current curriculum is not necessarily broken. I don’t want current students to think that. It was that so many courses were filling FISHN and general education that we just needed to pause, reset, and recalibrate.”

Bowen also wanted students to know that although she doesn’t directly interact with students on a day-to-day basis, if ever students wanted to discuss curriculum or the quality of their education, she is all ears: “I always like to be open and accessible to students…If you wanted to come and talk to me about how students with disabilities were getting the proper resources at QUEST … or [if] students have policy proposals around the academic experience … that would be broadly when I would engage with students.” Bowen believes that there are so many connections between different groups of students and faculty that there isn’t much separation and formation of exclusionary groups.

Our Provost is a Juniatian too. When asked what her favorite part of Juniata is, she replied, “… one of the things I just so appreciate about Juniata students is I think they’re curious and I don’t think they feel like they have to show off what they already learned. They’re willing to say ‘I know this, but I really want to know more about that.’” She explains that it is because Juniata is a crossroads between humility, curiosity, and good humor that it feels like home. Lauren Bowen has worked as our Provost since 2014, and enjoys visiting Juniata students all around the world.

Provost Bowen’s message to the Juniata College Student Body is that “I think students having voice in their educational experience matters enormously. I welcome the opportunity for dialogue…I love talking about curriculum, I love talking about the academic experience—I would love to know more about what students would add or do differently in terms of programs, study abroad experiences, anything on students’ minds.” Expressing gratitude for her opportunity to work at Juniata College, Bowen said “The purpose of education is to help students prepare for their career, but it is also to prepare them to be in the world and to help them figure out who they want to be and how to live a life of meaning. … I can’t think of anything more important.”