Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies and Academic Partnerships at TWU, Dr. Barbara Lerner, received the Catalyst Award from the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students this past February.
A TWU alumna herself, Lerner has spent over 25 years of her career with TWU, and over 15 of those years she has worked within the community to help TWU welcome more transfer students. Starting in the early 2000s, she began making articulation agreements with local community colleges. Articulation agreements are formal agreements between colleges that document transfer policies. She was hard at work before the state coordinating board had taken any action with higher education transfers.
Just this past summer during the legislative session, she had a chance to impact policy in Austin. Chancellor Feyten took a group down to Austin to give testimony about higher education before the Senate committee. When a question came up about transfer issues, Feyten said, “I have here with me Barbara Lerner, the Transfer Queen.” Under the state spotlight, Lerner was happy to explain why transferring courses between colleges has been such a sticky business in the past and the steps that can be taken to change that.
Over the years, she has gained a certain reputation around the campus. Laughing, she shared that she used to call herself “the pest” because she routinely asks questions and actively seeks change. The people who interact with her regularly can predict her favorite question: “Whose rule is that?” Especially if it’s a rule at TWU, she wants to know so that she can waive it or modify it. Her nickname for herself changed when a colleague asked her about it. According to Lerner, he said, “Why do you call yourself the pest? With everything you do around here, you should call yourself the catalyst.” She smiled when she told me this: her award, sitting next to our notebooks on the table, read, “Transfer Champion Catalyst.”
She began her career as a special education teacher for nine preschoolers. “I dream about them still,” she said, and it’s clear they impacted her as much as she surely impacted them. As so many teachers know, the best way to teach is with love, but the best love goes both ways. When asked about the magnitude of what she’s accomplished since then, Lerner said, “It’s a different kind of work doing what I do now, but it’s wonderful to look back at the progression of my career as I’ve impacted more and more students step by step.”
Lerner has gone from impacting students at the individual level to impacting policy that will help students across the state. That is the story of a catalyst.