Ann Marie Russell
A simple question from a comparative literature professor led Ann Marie Russell ’01 to Commonwealth Honors College. “When I was taking a course with Professor [Emerita] Elizabeth Petroff, she complimented me on my writing and asked if I was a member of Commonwealth Honors College.” This is just once instance where the encouragement of UMass Amherst faculty inspired Russell to pursue a rigorous academic path.
Now the director of institutional research, analysis, and planning at Bates College, Russell says that the faculty at UMass Amherst were invested in her success, defying the stereotype of large universities as impersonal.
“As a socially observant and intellectually curious child, I suppose it was only natural that within my first year at UMass Amherst I fell in love with the field of psychology and its empirical approach to making sense of the world,” she recalls. Through a campus research mentoring program she met Professor Susan Fiske, a social psychologist. Fiske provided critical research training for Russell; that work, along with her honors thesis, “set in motion my path to graduate school and a professional career in research.”
During her four years on campus, Russell seized opportunities to explore academics through service. An alternative spring break course changed her from “an observer to a civic actor.” In the course, students examined research literature on economically disadvantaged communities, and discussed interventions that could create improvements. They then did direct social service in the community, and observed how the interventions actually worked in practice. This experience, says Russell, “provided me with tools to assume leadership on the issues that I cared about.” In addition, she cofounded the Multicultural Association of Psychology Students, which supported students of color in the psychology discipline.
After graduation Russell was hired for a position with AmeriCorps VISTA in the UMass Amherst Office of Community Service Learning, where she implemented a program to connect UMass Amherst students with at-risk Amherst youth, co-led the IMPACT! Residential Academic Program, and cofacilitated the courses for IMPACT! with a faculty member. Russell also spent two years working at Harvard University’s Native American Program, where she coordinated activities in research, teaching, recruitment, retention, and community outreach. Meanwhile, her faculty mentor, Professor Fiske, had taken a position at Princeton University and urged Russell to apply to graduate school. In 2012, Russell earned her doctorate in psychology and social policy from Princeton University.
Reflecting upon her path to her current position, Russell says “I fully credit UMass Amherst for my academic and professional successes. In my role as director of institutional research at Bates College, I collect, analyze, and provide statistical data to the college’s leadership to inform institutional planning and policy-making. The UMass Amherst environment fostered opportunities for research, service, and leadership that have benefited me to this day.”
To students considering attending UMass Amherst and membership in Commonwealth Honors College, Russell advises, “Don’t be fearful of attending such a large school. You will find your place here, your supporters, and tons of academic resources! In a time where research is valued more than ever, employers are seeking graduates who know how to work with data. At UMass Amherst you will have access to high-quality faculty who are leaders in their fields and are experts at their crafts. Every professor with whom I worked was passionate about their research and committed to cultivating future leaders in their discipline. That is what makes UMass Amherst unique.”