Captain’s log, Stardate 03.13.2020: With the onset of the pandemic, Lindsay J. Russell, Lee Business School’s online program manager, was thrust into uncharted territory, along with the rest of the world, as she assisted the school’s faculty in preparing to teach their classes remotely for the first time. With her small crew of graduate assistants, Russell led the charge of designing online classes, assisting with technical issues, and providing professional development for faculty. Nearly a year after the pandemic began, she is proud of all she has accomplished and has an optimistic outlook for the future of online education at UNLV.
Tell us about what you do at UNLV.
When I came to Lee Business School in 2019, my job was to assess online classes within the school, review student and faculty engagement, and develop and execute a plan for online courses. In order to offer a complete major online, the entire core of business courses must be taught online and, at that time, we had five online classes and six hybrid. I also ensure we are supporting students’ needs, especially as we add more online classes and will soon have some students who take classes exclusively online.
How has your job changed since the pandemic?
The onset of the pandemic required me to fill the roles that would truly be three different positions in different circumstances. In addition to program manager, I have served as the embedded technologist, helping with technical issues or questions and the instructional designer, assisting faculty in adapting their class for online. When everyone began working from home, a lot of my job became professional development, helping faculty learn general skills using tools like Canvas, Google, and WebEx. We had some faculty that didn’t use technology in the classroom that needed to learn quickly how to adapt their classes for online. In the first few months, I became a “first responder” for faculty when it comes to things like setting up a quiz or moving around modules in Canvas or setting up a WebEx session. Before the pandemic hit I had begun recruiting faculty to convert their class to an online format but we hadn’t gotten that far.
With such a shift in your job, and the need to help faculty to get classes online quickly, how did you manage it?
I have amazing graduate students who have helped share the burden. They are really great with customer service and instructional design. A lot of our job is just supporting our faculty and letting them know that we will get through this. There’s no way I could have accomplished what I needed to last year and through the pandemic without them.
How did you land at UNLV?
From 2006 to 2012, I was teaching at Sierra Vista and Legacy high schools. I was a Spanish teacher, and then I was a stay-at-home mom from 2012 to 2017 when I joined online ed at UNLV. My job at online ed enabled me to be a stay-at-home mom on the days I had my kids because I went through a divorce in 2017. I had a level of stability (while working) at online ed that I didn’t have to worry about childcare and I could still continue my Ph.D. program. I’ve told Beth Barrie (director of the office of online education) more than once that my resignation wasn’t so much me resigning as it was thanking her and the department for the level of support they were able to provide me during that time. And, in 2019 I joined Lee Business School.
What drew you to UNLV?
Before I was an employee, I was a student ('13 Master of Education, '19 PhD Education). I was actually going to go to law school when I graduated with my undergrad at UNR. I started teaching and put law school on backburner but I knew I wanted to advance my education. I didn’t look at any other schools for my master’s, even though there probably would have been other choices that would have been more convenient. I just wanted to go to UNLV and support a Nevada institution that does a really good job of supporting the community.
While I was in my master’s I started thinking about my Ph.D. They had just started up a Ph.D. in multicultural education, which is what my master’s focuses on. And, so my advisor at the time, Dr. (Christine) Clark, said it wouldn’t be too much of a leap to just jump into the Ph.D. program.
As a professional, I have always wanted to be involved in education in some aspect. My job at online ed was such a great experience that when I started looking past my Ph.D., I really only considered NSHE institutions because of the level of collaboration and support. And, there’s a level of prestige now because we have reached R1 status. Because I’ve graduated from here I feel a sense of pride when I tell people I work at UNLV because it’s the heart of Las Vegas.
What has it been like working from home during the pandemic?
I’m home with my two kids and my dad and they generally know if the door is closed I am in a meeting but interruptions happen.
The lines have blurred. We don’t leave home to go to work anymore, and the kids don’t leave to go to school. So, all of these social things we did before happen now all in the same space, there’s no separation. My going to work is me literally closing the door to my bedroom. There have been days that I’m sure we have all cried. And then there are days where we’re like, “Oh, yeah. We’ve got this.”
What are the silver linings of the pandemic in your life right now?
There’s a ton of silver linings. I can say being home with my kids and just spending time with them is invaluable as a working parent. Usually, they would be in school, but now they’re not, so you get this weird but cool vantage point to what they’re learning, how they’re learning.
Professionally, I would say people just take me more seriously now. I only knew a handful of faculty and staff when I was in the building, simply because that was who I engaged with on a daily basis or on an as-needed basis. But when the pandemic started there was a need for me to reach out to more people. They started seeing value in my position and how I could support them in their teaching. I think maybe people just didn’t know what I did. I have met more of our colleagues in this space, virtually, than I ever did in the building and I have formed some of the best friendships and professional relationships.
What’s something that might surprise people about you?
I’m a voice actor/ audio producer in my spare time. A friend of mine told me I should do voiceover work because when I read stories to my kids, like Harry Potter, I can’t just read the book, I do voices for all the characters. Silly voices and characters are something I have done my whole life. I found a website where you can audition to do voiceover work for audiobooks. The titles and genres run the gamut. And auditioning is a lot like acting, you can do like 1,000 auditions before you get a job. I got signed on for a few book series and I have been recording ever since.
Tell us about some of your hobbies and interests.
There’s a lot. (laughs) I’m interested in astronomy and science. I’m actually part of an astronomy club that’s based in Palm Beach, Florida. They’ve gone virtual now so there is no need to physically be there. It’s been really fun. They meet once a month on a Wednesday evening, and they’ll usually have a guest speaker who has either written for Sky and Telescope, or a scientist or engineer in the field. We learn about all sorts of astronomical events or advancements in the field of astronomy. That’s definitely one of my main interests.
And, of course, I am really into science fiction, like Star Trek and Star Wars – I am an equal opportunity nerd – I like it all. In fact, for my Ph.D. program, I somehow was able to reference Star Trek in everything I turned in.
I also love to be crafty. I love to do stuff that is creative or artistic, with something that is tangible.
I am also a Girl Scout co-leader for my daughter’s troop. It’s a really fun and engaging experience for young girls that exposes them to so many new things and career paths and it helps them with their leadership skills. My daughter is so willing to try things and I credit that to Girl Scouts.
What’s the worst advice you have ever received?
I think the worst advice I have ever received is “Don’t make a fuss.” It’s something my grandmother used to say. As women, we are just systemically programmed to serve others, and I do that in my life and in my job, but I firmly believe that when we do make a fuss that’s when we can enact change, become advocates, and have some agency.
What’s the last book you couldn’t put down?
I read the book Beneath a Scarlet Sky. It takes place during World War II, and it’s based on a true story about a guy who helps the Jews escape Italy. I totally recommend it.
If you were a Star Trek character, who would you be?
I would probably be Captain Janeway. I feel like I have really good leadership capabilities. I’m able to use logic to get through certain situations or think about things creatively in order to solve problems. I just love how commanding she could be and how human she could be. I feel like I try to emulate a lot of her personality traits in my own life. That show was a big part of my upbringing. It provided me with at least a blueprint of strong, powerful women.