Lawrence Ward’s story can be told as a series of vignettes. In one scene, he’s a small child sitting in the back of his mother’s classroom after pretending to be sick so he can watch her teach. In another, he’s the student government geek at the University of Connecticut, befriending administrators and discovering mentors. Upon graduating, he’s the freshly minted health-insurance salesman.
Years later, he’s the lost soul in a coffee shop trying to figure out his life with a yellow legal pad and a list of “things I like to do.” He’s a training and education consultant who leaves his job as its client base dries up following the dot-com bust. He’s a young director of an undergraduate business program who becomes an associate dean. He’s a working father with two children who decides to earn a doctorate, commuting from Washington, D.C., to Pennsylvania and feeling the pangs of missed soccer games and bedtime stories.
From each phase of life, he learned. He learned that education is important, and that being an educator is a noble profession. He learned how to talk with clients, handle adversity, persevere, maintain integrity, and be true to himself. And he’s excited to bring this knowledge to his latest role as vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “What fills my cup is to be able to use my skills and talents to make a difference,” he says, “and I know that I can do that every day at Babson.”
Have you started to develop a philosophy for your roles? Well, you arrive with one. It’s almost like hiring a football coach who comes with a particular offensive or defensive mindset. And then, of course, you adapt it to the institution. I think fundamentally our role is to prepare our students for what comes next and to understand the key drivers of student satisfaction—the services that we provide, our responsiveness, campus safety and security. And then to have a commitment to excellence, quality, integrity, and diversity.
I also came in wanting to set a new tone. There are things that are urgent, and there are things that are important or essential, and those are different. Not everything is an emergency, and we’re going to stop treating it as though it is. And then there is empowerment. There’s no reason to have a talented staff, and then not give them the ability to make decisions. If the decision goes well, they deserve the credit, and if it doesn’t, then it’s my fault. When I first articulated that philosophy, I’m not sure they believed me. But that’s the brand Babson got when making the decision to appoint me.
How involved are you with the students? I see students sort of at the polar ends of their experience. The students who through their leadership, through their level of engagement have distinguished themselves, and students who through sometimes poor decisions or bad judgment or just bad luck have distinguished themselves in the opposite direction. The vast majority of students in the middle, I try to engage with—you know, I eat in Trim regularly. I typically will have breakfast there four times a week. Lunch there or in Reynolds. I try to do a lot of walking around and engaging with students and meeting with student groups and individual student leaders. I think it’s easy to fall into a trap where you kind of get away from direct student interaction, but that’s absolutely no fun for me.
What are your plans for the upcoming year? I created two associate dean of students positions, for wellness and for engagement. So in terms of student engagement, one of my observations of Babson students is that they’re super involved, almost hyper, uber involved. That has merit, but it also has great limitations. I don’t think that you can be fully engaged in 14 things. So what I want to do is create a focus not on involvement but on engagement, and being more meaningfully engaged in a limited number of things. I want students to be more intentional, reflective, thoughtful about how each piece of their Babson experience contributes to their growth and development.
The other observation is that we have highly motivated and talented students who arrive with an incredible amount of stress and anxiety that they place on themselves. Too often that can lead to serious issues around poor mental health and emotional well-being. Not knowing how to manage anxiety and stress, and then selfmedicating with alcohol and other drugs, not sleeping, and so you get that chronic sleep deprivation, and that can lead to unhealthy behavior and decisions. The way that students engage with each other sexually. We live in a world of social media. Students often don’t know how to talk about sex in healthy, mature ways. We are sexual beings, but we need to spend more time helping young people understand what that means and how to approach relationships in a healthy and safe way.
So student wellness and student engagement are two essential areas where we can be more intentional, more proactive, and more effective, and that will contribute to student development, engagement, and academic success.
Where do you get your sense of humor? I guess I come from a funny family. My brother and I, we spent hours entertaining each other and still do, trying to make each other laugh with our observations. Of course, not all humor is appropriate, and that’s when people get into trouble, because you have to know your limits as a comedian. But I also believe in speaking truth to power and to do it in ways that are often more subtle but equally effective. I don’t know that there’s a better sound than the sound of laughter. I think the most beautiful expression in the world is a smile. If I had the ability to make someone think or smile, then I feel like I’ve had a pretty good day.—Donna Coco