New dean brings personal experience to inaugural BLAST program
Dean Robert Mack takes on additional role as director of Tufts’ bridge program
Published: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 07:09
Tufts’ newest undergraduate associate dean in the School of Arts and Sciences is ready to hit the ground running after spending the last six weeks of summer on campus.
In addition to his role as associate dean, Robert Mack is also director of the Bridge to Liberal Arts Success (BLAST) program, as described in Stephanie Haven’s “New Jumbos: ready, get, BLAST” on today’s front page.
Coming to Tufts from his position as the Manager of Advising Services at Curry College, Mack is particularly passionate about his involvement in the inaugural summer of the BLAST program.
“What specifically interested me about the position — my title is undergraduate associate dean and BLAST director — was the BLAST program; it really drew me to the position,” Mack said. “Although I was not doing that work at Curry [College], I was doing it in my previous institutions and missed it, so I was looking for an avenue to get back into that role.”
The BLAST program provided 22 students with the opportunity to arrive on campus six weeks before matriculation to take two university courses and attend other workshops and activities this past summer.
According to Mack, with the addition of the BLAST program to Tufts, the administration was looking for someone to come in and execute a program that would help students become acclimated to higher education.
“Primarily, it was an opportunity for them to have an early transition to Tufts, and to do some coursework early on within the structure of a program,” he said. “So, by getting them here early and with less commotion and more individualized attention, they will feel like they’re coming into higher education with the ability to transition successfully.”
Mack’s position as director is especially meaningful to him because of his own experience preparing for his undergraduate studies.
“I’m a first-generation college student, and in my higher education experience I started with a summer bridge program, similar to the one that Tufts has now,” Mack said. “That was a trademark moment in my life. I worked for the program for about ten years after I graduated, in [an effort to] continue to support the idea of access and equity, higher education [and] what it means to give back once you’ve received, so those are really important to me.”
Mack did not even think about college until the end of his senior year of high school, when he noticed that everyone around him was on that path. Through a stroke of luck, he wound up in a bridge program at a nearby school.
“I gave it a shot, and it changed my life,” he said. “Just to be around mentors who I think were genuinely supportive and caring, understood system barriers and challenges, and were patient with me because I was clueless and didn’t really have anyone to rely on at home to kind of give me direction or a sense of how the system worked.”
As a result of his own boost into higher education, Mack has been able to give back, working as a Director of Student Support Services at a federally-funded TRIO program geared towards supporting first generation students, low-income students or students with learning disabilities.
“I think that anytime I have the opportunity to help a student
learn more about himself, [become] more comfortable questioning things that they were told not to question
[or] whatever those growing moments are,
that always means a lot to me,” he said.
Although BLAST is still in its early stages, Mack commends the Office of Undergraduate Admissions for the work that was done to gather this summer’s group of participants.
“The group is fantastically unique, and full of personality, certainly very diverse, and I think having that added to the Tufts culture will be such a positive influence,” Mack said. “From my experience, Tufts does a really good job as a whole recognizing unique students, and I think BLAST is going to continue to add to that.”
The students who opted to participate in the program appreciated the benefits that resulted from their experience. Mack, too, received high praise.
“BLAST was definitely one of the best points in my life. I think that having the opportunity to be on campus before everyone else, and just to learn how everything works [is] invaluable,” freshman Daniel Vargas said. “Dean Mack is one of those people who you only meet every once in a while. He’s very dedicated, very professional, the kind of guy who you can go and talk to.”
Though the school year has just begun, many students have already found this to be true. Mack has already met with several of the liberal arts students to whom he will be dean this year.
“I just like to meet people, and I feel like each student comes with such a different story,” Mack said. “I have appreciated the number of students who’ve emailed me to say, ‘You’re my new dean, I’d like to come by and start a relationship.’ I think that’s really nice.”
“I see my team, the associate deans, work very hard and do a really great job advocating and caring about students,” he added. “I would just encourage students to recognize that Tufts has made that resource available, and students should use it when needed.”