When John Bader, the new assistant dean for academic advising in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, eyes students milling about in his lobby, he drags them into his office and starts to gently grill them. He wants to know what their hopes and dreams are, and what they think about academic life at Hopkins. On a couple of occasions, Bader has even gone to the cafeteria and asked a group of students if he could sit at their table and talk with them.
"They always seem to think it's a little strange at first," Bader says, "but it's been a very helpful way for me to get a handle on what our office needs to be doing."
As assistant dean, Bader supervises a nine-person staff responsible for helping Hopkins students discover their academic interests and make the most of their undergraduate years. In the less than two months since he was appointed director of the Office of Academic Advising, Bader has met with a dizzying array of students, department heads, deans and faculty members.
He's emerged, he says, with two themes he wants his office to pursue: "excellence" and "exploration."
To promote academic excellence, Bader is working with his staff to provide more outreach services to students, particularly in their freshman year, that will help them become better students.
"We want to have more workshops that talk about things like how to take better notes in class," he says. "Or, What is a research paper supposed to look like? Or, If you have 2,000 pages of reading to do in one week, which of those 2,000 pages do you read?'"
Another theme Bader hopes to pursue is encouraging students to be more daring and creative in their academic choices and to give several different subject areas a chance before committing to one.
"It's a little like dating--you just can't know what you want in a partner or a mate until you've had a few dates," he says. "So, in both our conversations and the materials we produce, we will constantly be asking them to expand their thinking when it comes to making academic decisions, because the bottom line is that students are more likely to succeed if they find the right academic fit. And we want to make finding the right academic fit easier and more inviting."
Bader received his bachelor's degree in history from Yale in 1985 and a doctorate in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1994.
Just prior to coming to Hopkins, he was policy director for the Jon S. Corzine for U.S. Senate 2000 campaign, which the New Jersey Democrat won. From 1994 to 2000, Bader was director for Washington programs and an assistant professor of political science at the UCLA Center for American Politics and Public Policy in Washington, D.C.
Bader also has worked as a researcher and assistant editor for ABC News' political unit. He studied as a Brookings Institution research fellow and as a Fulbright Scholar in India. He is the author of Taking the Initiative: Leadership Agendas in Congress and the "Contract with America" (Georgetown University Press, 1996). This remains the definitive, most cited study of the "Contract with America."
The variety of talents he brings has already won over many at Hopkins.
"John Bader brings to Academic Advising enthusiasm, intelligence and a fresh perspective," says Steven David, associate dean for academic affairs. "As a former professor and political consultant, he has the intellectual and people skills to improve the already solid performance of this critical office. He has already made his mark in countless meetings with faculty and administrators throughout Hopkins. We are delighted with the appointment."
In the coming months and years, Bader says he hopes to create an academic advising system that "creates more of an invitation for students to sup at this intellectual feast we have here at Hopkins."
He also wants to address the students' needs. From meeting with them individually and through committees, Bader says the overriding concern he's been hearing is that they want deeper, more meaningful relationships with their faculty.
"They really want more access to them. They really care about their opinions and want their counsel and advice," Bader says.
"I can't and don't want to change the faculty, but I can change the system. What I'd like to do is simplify the academic bureaucracy. I want to lessen the need for faculty to devote all their conversations about requirements by simplifying the system of curriculum oversight. Hopefully," he says, "this will offer more opportunities for them to talk about other things, like careers in the subjects they teach, research opportunities, interesting courses in their department, that sort of thing.
"Overall, I see our office as having a dual mission. One is to promote academic excellence, and the other to promote intellectual exploration," Bader says."We want students to take full advantage of a great institution that also can be a very intense place. The academic rigor of Hopkins will not change, but we want, and we can help, students to thrive."