Gatepost Interview: Christopher Gregory, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs

What is your role at FSU and what does your job entail?

My title is associate dean of academic affairs, and under that, I’ve really got two roles, which are director of academic advising and then chair of undeclared students. … This is my 20th year. And so in that role, I direct advising for the campus, obviously. We take care of undeclared [students] with two professional advisors in O’Connor Hall. And then I help faculty be the advisors. So most of the advisors … are faculty advisors – as part of their job – but they need a lot of assistance, and so I’m there year-round to help them. … So, as far as the chair of undeclared, for obvious reasons, I want to welcome people undeclared, make them feel comfortable, and then kind of slowly or systematically work as to why they decided to be undeclared, and then move them slowly to declare in a major and a minor. I will say that minors are kind of my thing. Everybody’s worried about getting a major, or having a major, or keeping a major. With our curriculum, it’s hard to double major with a four credit system, but it’s not as hard to be a minor in five courses. 

What is your professional and educational background?

My bachelor’s degree is in English, and I went to Salve Regina [in Rhode Island]. And then my master’s degree and Ph.D. were in American Studies. So you see that I took that writing, and I took that interest in history, and put those together, which is what I try to tell students when they’re trying to choose the correct major. And I understand it’s stressful at age 19, 20, 21. But now that I’m older and I’m looking back, I’m realizing it matters, but not all that much because if you want to go on and get a graduate degree, you can take all this, and you put it into a graduate degree. And there’s nobody who will say to you when you’re 40, “Oh, you made a grave mistake when you were 18.” And with that way, you have plenty of time to, I guess, make room for your minor, and your major, and your interests because if you’re going to go on in your degree – always – there’s always time.

What do you like most about your work?

I like the diversity of people that I work with. Starting with my staff, I’ve got two advisors, who have very interesting backgrounds from mine. Mine is an academic background – I was teaching for years. But the two advisors that I have, they’ve been in counseling – they’ve been in mental health counseling. So, they’ve got a [variety of] backgrounds that they bring to make this a team. So, I like working with the core team. I also like the fact that I’m in Academic Affairs, but I work very closely with people who are in Student Affairs. So, in 20 years, I’ve been in Student Affairs for 15 of those, and only five of those in Academic Affairs. … I always say about Framingham State students that they are grateful – that they’re appreciative. I’d say 99 out of 100 in my whole career have been students who are really thankful when we do our jobs – I mean they are our jobs. But when we do them, we’re helping people. I think that’s the part that we like the most.

How has COVID-19 impacted your job?

The three of us – the two advisors and our administrative assistant – we’ve had to really coordinate and become efficient. … And then we all had to decide we had to be responsive. That’s the key word here – responsive to the needs of the students. No matter what that looked like, we absolutely had to take care of people. And so, I’ve got my phone here. I answer my phone seven days a week – it’s tied to my office phone. I’ve answered this phone in the car, at CVS, whatever the case might be because I really want students to know that we’re trying to respond to their needs. … I don’t want them to be shortchanged. So we’ve had to be nimble. And then the second part is … a year ago, at this date, there was no Zoom in my life that I knew of, and all of a sudden, there was. And so, with this technology coming at us, we don’t have time to say, “I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to learn that.” So we’ve had to be nimble with the technology. … I think of anything in my whole career, this has made me realize that three months, six months, nine months from now, we could be doing something else that’s really different. I will say this: there was a dividing line between people who embraced these new skills and others who said, “I can’t do this. I’m out,” and they were of retirement age, so they were out. But I mean, I’m talking like five people off the top of my head, who were here this time last year and they’re gone. Whereas the rest of us are OK to learn new things. So, we’ve got to be flexible. We’ve got to be open-minded.

What would students be surprised to know about you?

I like pop music. I don’t know what people think I would like, but I can listen for hours to The 1975. I actually saw them at Logan Airport at the luggage carousel one time, and I didn’t know who they were, but I was watching them. … I was looking at them, and I realized, “Boy! They could be a rock band,” and then I left and then I realized they were one. … Almost every night, I’m at my computer, I’m working, but I’ve got headphones on, and I’m listening to pop music – whatever there is. I have a standing desk, so typically, I’m actually moving around swaying or whatever. 

What is your number one piece of advice for students?

The number one piece of advice is to not worry about their major as much as they do in a minor. … I’ve been constantly saying to parents and teachers that you’ve got to focus on five skills. No matter what the major is, you’ve got to be able to write well – you can’t fake that. You’ve got to speak well. So, you can escape Effective Speaking class if you want to run away from that, but you’ve got to learn how to speak effectively. Number three is to listen very actively when people are talking – don’t be distracted. Really listen to what they’re saying. The other thing is to learn how to work with different types of people or people who are different than you. So, you hear different points of view, and you realize that the world is a big place with a lot of opinions – not just your own. And then the last thing I would tell students to do is to be aware of what’s going on in the world. Try not to just do your basic Twitter feed because it’ll give you the stuff that you’re already interested in. Try to read other people’s points of view. … That way, you’ll learn diverse opinions, and you won’t be so shocked that the world is such a vast, different place.