Snart reappointed as dean of education
“Fern Snart inspires by her passion and dedication; recognizes and positions talented people in roles of responsibility, and seeks to partner with colleagues in developing vision, strategies, and solutions,” said Carl Amrhein, provost and vice-president (academic). “Fern knows how to listen effectively and this makes a difference in her support to others.”
Taking the time to listen led Snart into an early career in clinical psychology. Born and raised in Dauphin, Manitoba, she began her university studies at Brandon University where she received a bachelor of arts in psychology, before working as a junior psychologist at an inpatient facility for adults and children. It was there that Snart says she developed an interest in clinical psychology.
“As a young psychologist my contact with parents and teachers shone a light on the importance of teachers,” said Snart, who would go on to complete a master’s of arts in clinical psychology at the University of Saskatchewan, and then make what would be her final move to the U of A. “My PhD research looked at cognition and the various ways that children experience challenges to learning. This led to looking at various kinds of process-based remedial programs for children with different types of learning disabilities.”
In 1993, Snart was awarded the Faculty of Education’s Undergraduate Teaching Award. In 2001, Fern’s three-person research team, which included Margaret Haughey and Joe da Costa, received the Alberta Teachers’ Association Educational Research Award for their study of the effects of small class size on the achievement of inner-city students.
In 2005, Snart became the 10th dean of the Faculty of Education. With a clear interest in Aboriginal education established as part of her portfolio as vice-dean, Snart says education’s selection committee also identified international outreach and research productivity as areas that needed to become faculty strengths.
“In terms of international, we had a lot going on previously, primarily very strong individual projects, but it was often not well known or co-ordinated. In 2005–06, we created an associate dean international position and the results have been remarkable,” said Snart.
The turnaround has been transformative. Some of education’s undergrads are now able to do their final student teaching placement in Macau, China, and all senior students can apply to do a field experience in global citizenship education in Ghana. The Ghana initiative now encompasses students from other faculties, and two teachers from Ghana each year, and it is an example of the strength of interdisciplinary study. Education researchers are now collaborating in 40 countries.
The Faculty of Education’s Aboriginal Teacher Education Program has also been an outright success, providing better access to the
U of A’s bachelor of education degree by delivering the program through tribal and provincial colleges in Alberta. Education now boasts a 96 per cent Aboriginal graduation rate. “Almost all of these graduates are teaching within their communities and rate teaching awards. It really is a wonderful success story,” said Snart.
In her time as dean the research productivity of her faculty has more than doubled, from $15 million to $32 million. Of the 41 doctoral Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council awards at the
U of A, 14—or 34 per cent—went to education grad students in 2009.
While her first five years as dean might be a tough act to follow, Snart has already begun mapping out her faculty’s future.
“We have almost finished a three-year review of our undergraduate offerings,” she said. “We developed principles, reviewed the research and have a committee that has been working on updating the curriculum model. The next two or three years will be very important.”
Snart says part of that curriculum overhaul will be attending to content and opportunities for pre-service teachers in areas such as teacher identity; the appropriate inclusion of students with a variety of learning needs based on diversity of language, physical and cognitive differences; cultural differences, including those of Aboriginal families; the appropriate integration of technology within various areas of pedagogy; sustainability in its various forms, and global citizenship education.
“Our program, frankly, is one of the stronger ones in Canada right now, but it is going to be remarkable.”
And just like the previous five years, Snart says she knows she can count on the full support of the university’s administration.
“Our current university leadership has a perception and appreciation of what a Faculty of Education can do. Unfortunately that is not always the case on campuses in Canada and the United States,” said Snart. “The support and the respect at the U of A for the work of the faculty and for our researchers are remarkable. For me, that makes a huge difference.”