Joan Lorden: 10 million minutes and a legacy of student success

Categories: General News Tags: Academic Affairs

There are 525,600 minutes in a year. Multiplied by 19, you get nearly 10 million. That’s how many minutes Joan Lorden has spent on the job as UNC Charlotte’s provost and chief academic officer. When she retires in December 2022, Lorden will leave Charlotte a noticeably more robust institution with a culture wholly committed to student success and a reputation for serving the region through engaged scholarship and research. Her forward-focused leadership in academic program development has enabled UNC Charlotte to emerge as the region’s leading provider of talented and skilled graduates to meet workforce needs — not only for today but with an eye to the future. “Joan Lorden has helped transform this institution by focusing on student access, affordability and success,” said Chancellor Sharon L. Gaber. “The structural, organizational and cultural changes she led fueled UNC Charlotte’s tremendous growth during the past decade.” In recognition of Lorden’s service, the University designated the Colvard Building second-floor offices for the University Advising Center, University Center for Academic Diversity, University Transfer Center and Office of Undergraduate Education as the Joan F. Lorden Student Success Center. Additionally, the UNC Charlotte Foundation established the Joan F. Lorden Graduate Opportunity Fund. Administered by the Graduate School, the fund will provide financial resources for deserving graduate students in any discipline.

Innovation ignites student success

Elevating the academic experience was a priority for Lorden upon her arrival in August 2003. She and her leadership team developed a comprehensive and coordinated array of student-centered programs, services and initiatives designed to address the needs of UNC Charlotte’s diverse student population, including a significant percentage who are the first in their families to attend college. A key contribution, the interdivisional Student Success Working Group, developed a multipronged graduation initiative to reduce Charlotte students’ barriers to progression and graduation. Lorden steered the implementation of a proactive advising system and created a semester-long academic course for incoming freshmen that led to a greater than 15% increase in the six-year graduation rate. For this achievement, Charlotte received the Award for Student Success in 2019 from the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities.. Chancellor Emeritus Jim Woodward first met Lorden in 1976 at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he was on the engineering faculty, and she had arrived as an assistant professor of psychology. A graduate of the City College of New York, Lorden completed a master’s degree and doctorate in psychology from Yale University. “I saw Joan’s impact on UAB; she embodied the talent we wanted to attract to Charlotte. She worked successfully across disciplines to bring people together,” said Woodward. “The quality of any university is defined by the quality of its faculty and administration and the culture in which they accomplish their work. Joan has demonstrated that she can attract very, very good people to Charlotte, and she supported a culture that has enabled them to do great work. Everything Joan put in place was driven by the needs of the public; she looks long term to implement programs to respond to the future.”

Spearheading University-community collaboration

Over the course of Lorden’s term as provost, UNC Charlotte’s footprint in the community grew considerably, guided by the development of the Civic Action Plan. She reorganized the Office of Metropolitan Studies into the Office of Urban Research and Community Engagement, now urbanCore with its mission to co-produce transformative solutions to societal issues and challenges. “Participatory research to benefit the community is central to Joan’s legacy,” said Gaber. “We want Charlotte to be a broader resource for our community; Joan recognized the need and created an associate provost’s position to lead our efforts.” Lorden’s other noteworthy contributions include:

  • Establishing the Charlotte Engineering Early College with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the Charlotte Teachers Institute, a collaborative provider of teacher professional development.
  • Guiding the creation of the Levine Scholars Program, Charlotte’s signature merit-based scholarship. High-achieving students vie for the full four-year scholarships, created and supported by multiple gifts from The Leon Levine Foundation. With community engagement at its core, the Levine Scholars Program accepts participants who will engage in volunteerism, internships with local nonprofits, grant projects with community partners and customized curricula to prepare them to become thoughtful leaders and compassionate humanitarians.
  • Expanding action-oriented service-learning that integrates meaningful community service with instruction to enrich the collegiate experience and inculcate civic responsibility among UNC Charlotte students, earning Lorden and the University national accolades. In 2016, she received the William Plater Award for Leadership in Civic Engagement from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and the University was given The Washington Center’s Civic Engagement Award, based, in part, on Lorden’s directives that have enabled faculty to more fully integrate civic engagement into the curriculum.
  • Sharing her leadership skills with many community organizations, including the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, Discovery Place, The Echo Foundation, the Women’s Impact Fund and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Foundation. For these efforts, she received 2016 Charlotte Woman of the Year Award for Civic Leadership and Service.

Championing diversity and inclusion

With knowledge that diverse experiences and voices prompt rich outcomes, Lorden is a long-time advocate for diversity and inclusion. She was the principal investigator for the UNC Charlotte NSF ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Grant, which established programs to support the progress of women faculty in STEM areas that led to the development of the ADVANCE Faculty Affairs and Diversity Office.

The UNC Charlotte Plan for Campus Diversity, Access and Inclusion guides progress for students who represent the wide breadth of gender identities, races and ethnicities, faith traditions, nationalities and other social categories and backgrounds. Lorden’s guidance led to programs that support student success, including academic engagement opportunities for traditionally underserved minorities and first-generation students through the Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusion.

To develop interventions to redress equity gaps of underserved students, Lorden initiated Charlotte’s joining the APLU-coordinated Student Experience Project. In addition, the University created a summer bridge program to support roughly one-third of first-year students, via Building Better Brothers, which focused on the needs of Black male students, and IGNITE for underrepresented female students.

A lasting legacy

Philip L. Dubois, a former provost at UNC Charlotte before leaving for the presidency of the University of Wyoming, returned to the University in 2005 and worked side-by-side with Lorden throughout his 15-year tenure as chancellor. “I was always impressed by how Joan did it all and never looked tired,” said Chancellor Emeritus Dubois. “She would be up late at night reading promotion and tenure files, then rise early to attend a breakfast meeting and cap off the evening at an event we’d both attend. She made it look effortless, and we all know it wasn’t. “Joan made three UNC Charlotte chancellors look very good, and she was just sensational in all aspects of her job,” he continued. “When you consider the literally thousands of students who have gone on to earn their degrees through initiatives she led, the tremendous impact on society is clear.”