Thompson’s résumé is tailor-made for the newly created position she’s
occupied since June 1: director of student learning and outcomes
“We were exceedingly fortunate that at the time we were hiring for
this position, Sheila was ready for a new challenge,” says Interim
Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, Curriculum and Programs
Rich Wagner. “She’s really an expert in the field.”
“I call it serendipity,” says Thompson, who worked in assessment at
the University of Denver for 10 years, eight as director of university
assessment and two as assistant provost for institutional research and
assessment. Thompson was previously a faculty member at DU, having
taught biology for eight years. “I loved it,” she says, adding that
teaching piqued her interest in understanding how students learn. When
she pursued her doctorate at DU in higher education, she focused on
student learning and assessment, writing her dissertation on developing
an assessment model for general studies science courses.
“The assessment movement (in higher education) really started in the
late 1980s and early 1990s, so I ‘grew up’ with it (professionally),”
Why a new position for student learning and assessment?
to Wagner, the director of student learning and outcomes assessment
position was created for two primary reasons. First, he says, “Teaching
and learning are central to what we do at Metro State. Understanding
how our students are learning, through an assessment program that is
ongoing” and has the ability to use results for improvement, is vital.
And second, last year’s accreditation visit by the Higher Learning
Commission (HLC) yielded the following recommendation: “Identify a
full-time person to provide strong leadership in assessment of student
“The institution has made great strides already in assessment,”
Wagner said, “but we’d gotten to the point where we needed someone to
take us to the next level.” The HLC reached the same conclusion, their
report stating that Metro State’s “new three-member assessment review
teams are an effective strategy for developing a culture of assessment
of student learning… MSCD is to be commended for this approach.
However, (a part-time position) is not adequate to sustain this effort.”
Just three weeks into her new position, Thompson also lauds the
efforts made to date. “The structures for assessment are already in
place; they lay a good foundation,” she says, citing the three schools’
assessment committees and the institution-wide assessment committee.
“It makes it that much easier for me to do my job.”
Thompson says that with each program and department already
submitting an annual report on assessment, and committees of peers
already reviewing the reports, her work will focus on using the
feedback to follow up on suggested improvements to student learning or
to improve the way learning outcomes are assessed.
A host of connections
Wagner is also excited about the connections in the area of student learning that Thompson brings to the job.
She has published articles on student learning in national journals
and recently learned that she will have a chapter published in an
assessment methods handbook. Until recently, she taught graduate-level
classes on student learning and assessment, for DU’s higher education
administration program. And just last week, Thompson presented at an
international conference on assessment and retention and how the two
Wagner says another of Thompson’s duties will be to write the
Monitoring Report on Assessment of Student Learning, also required by
the HLC as part of the accreditation process. Thompson wrote a similar
report while she was at DU, where she also co-chaired the HLC
self-study committee and chaired the assessment subcommittee.
And, Thompson has been tapped already to co-chair the summer general
studies committee, along with Assistant Professor of Spanish Lunden
MacDonald. That committee is charged with developing a plan to assess
the general studies curriculum.
About the students
Thompson says part of the appeal for
her in coming to Metro State is its mission. “For so many of the
faculty and administrators, the focus really is on student learning,”
she says. “They’re committed to student learning; they care about it
and want to improve it.”
“And for me, it really is about the students.”
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