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Rob Vanderlan to lead Center for Teaching Innovation

The Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI), founded in 2017 to support faculty in their efforts to explore and foster inclusive, evidence-based teaching practices, will be under new leadership beginning in the coming academic year. Mathew L. Ouellett, Founding Executive Director of the CTI, has announced that he will be departing from his role at the end of the summer. He will be succeeded by Rob Vanderlan ‘88 as Executive Director, and Diane Sempler as Managing Director. Both have worked at the Center since its inception. 

“We are incredibly grateful for Matt’s leadership over the last five years,” said Julia Thom-Levy, Vice Provost for Academic Innovation and Professor of Physics. “Under his direction, we successfully merged two units (Academic Technologies and the Center for Teaching Excellence) to form the CTI. It opened up new possibilities for innovation and teaching excellence, and we have already seen the extraordinary effect it has had at Cornell.”

Sempler noted, “Matt’s strong leadership brought two very different units together to create a new center focused on teaching and learning, sparking new conversations and projects around teaching innovation.”

Ouellett prioritized faculty development programs addressing five key global challenges in higher education: evidence-based teaching, inclusion and equity, innovation, assessment, and technology. The CTI sponsors a range of programs that bring instructors and students into a robust campus dialogue on teaching and learning. These include Big Red Teaching Days, the Mid-Semester Feedback Program, and the New Faculty Teaching Academy. CTI also partners with colleges and departments to lead the Active Learning Initiative (ALI).

Ouellett brought his long-standing commitment to inclusive teaching practices and support for diverse students to every aspect of the CTI. He led the development and launch of the award-winning online course on inclusive learning environments: Teaching and learning in the diverse classroom (offered both at Cornell and via edX to the global higher education community).

Ouellett’s leadership proved especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when CTI helped Cornell faculty quickly pivot to remote instruction. In the semesters that followed, CTI worked with instructors to make emergency-driven learning environments as rich and effective as possible. “The work Matt did preparing CTI, the expertise of the team, and his leadership under crisis,” observed Vanderlan, “positioned CTI to support faculty quickly and effectively in the most difficult circumstances.”

Vanderlan will begin as Executive Director in mid-August. A 20th century U.S. historian who has taught in Cornell’s Department of History, Vanderlan has most recently led the CTI’s learning technologies team. He led Cornell’s transition to the Canvas digital learning environment, was co-creator and co-facilitator of CTI’s New Faculty Teaching Academy and is a co-lead for the digital exhibition Any person many stories: Histories of inclusion and exclusion at Cornell, which will open this fall.

“It is increasingly clear that teaching at Cornell will never look like it did before the pandemic,” Vanderlan observed. “I am excited for CTI to help faculty build on all they learned during the pandemic, and to consider how to retain and strengthen the best attributes of residential education, to strengthen the student learning experience. We have all been innovators of necessity over the last couple of years. I’m looking forward to working purposefully towards a more vibrant culture of learning.” 

Diane Sempler will become Managing Director of the CTI. Sempler currently leads a team that includes instructional designers, project and administration personnel, and communication and media experts. She leads the annual Innovation Grants Program which supports faculty experimentation and innovation in teaching. Prior to joining the CTI, Sempler held increasingly responsible leadership roles in Cornell Information Technologies. She brings a deep understanding of operations to the Managing Director position. 

The Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) is a part of the Office of the Provost working directly under the Vice Provost for Academic Innovation. 

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