Behind the Scenes: Questions for Marian Matheson
By Jennifer Potanka '11, Staff Writer
What is your position at the College? What does a typical day at work entail?

I am the Director of Institutional Research and Planning. My job is to provide decision support information to committees and fellow administrators. My office collects, analyses and reports on historical and comparative information. Students might know my work best by the occasional surveys we send out to assess different aspects of their experience here (I’ll also track you down after you graduate). Many students responded to the dining assessment last October — we’ll reissue that survey in April and then make comparisons between the two.

One of the best things about my job is that there is no typical day. I may have meetings with any number of administrative or faculty colleagues and/or work on a number of projects that vary throughout the year. I work most closely with colleagues in the Dean of the Faculty’s office, IT, Registrar, Admissions, the Dean of Students office — really all across the College.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Bayside, Queens, N.Y.; Northport, Long Island, N.Y.; Deerfield, Ill.; and Mendham, N.J. (I graduated from high school there).

What was your childhood like?

We moved around a lot, which was dreary and very unsettling. I was fortunate in that I was good at making friends and a good athlete so I could always get on a team and have teammates who would become friends. Playing sports has always been a very important part of my life.

How did you end up in Amherst?

I was at Columbia University since the early 1990s. After Sept. 11, I was looking for the right job opportunity to move out of New York City. We had decided that the Pioneer Valley would be a great place to raise our daughter. I was especially interested in having her attend The Common School for her early childhood education. So we were looking for job opportunities in this area. The IR Director position was posted in 2004 and it was a good fit for me and the College. We moved here in August of that year.

What is your family like? Do you have any pets?

I have a partner who teaches at Smith, and a nine-year-old daughter. All of our extended family lives either in the NYC area or in Michigan, so we have followed the adage that “friends are the family you make for yourself.” We are blessed with many wonderful friends here in the valley and in the Boston area. We have two dogs — a crazy boxer and a mellow beagle/basset mix that we adopted from the Dakin Shelter. We also have a leopard gecko (and dozens of crickets to feed him.)

What is your favorite place in the world?

The Outer Banks of North Carolina. There is one house left in a row where all the other houses have been washed away. It teeters on its stilts, as the waves break beneath it now, and it may not have made it through this winter. But I have rented that house for 20 years and have had the most wonderful gatherings of friends, family and children there.

Do you have a favorite Val meal?

I don’t get to Val very often and when I do I am looking for the quickest way to have lunch (although I did eat there a bit more as we were preparing to do the dining assessment project.) I find the red sauce in the Lighter Side section to be quite good.

What is your favorite thing about the College?

The students. I do not have a lot of opportunity to interact with them, but when I do, I am always impressed and entertained. I also find our students to be incredibly gracious and polite. I wonder if we select for those traits.

Do you have any hidden talents?

I can juggle, nothing fancy though. That talent remains fairly well-hidden in Converse Hall.

What is your favorite hobby or activity?

Spending time with my daughter and partner, usually around golf, travel, music, water sports or cooking, and I am now learning to bake bread (which is a bit like teaching a smoker to grow their own tobacco).

Do you have a daily routine before and after work?

I used to hit the gym before work but I have now ground my knees down to nothing. I walk my dogs, drive to Amherst and drop my daughter off at The Common School before heading into Converse.

What period of your life do you wish you could relive?

I have a good life now; an excellent, happy life.

How many years have you worked at the College? What positions did you hold before Amherst?

I’ve been at Amherst for seven years. Before Amherst, I was an associate provost at Columbia University, a researcher and instructor at Tufts University and a dean of students at Pfeiffer College (bonus points for anyone that can name that town). I also did graduate study and worked at Boston College and SUNY Plattsburgh. I’ve been a lifeguard, a waitress (good money!) and a farm hand.

What is your favorite memory of being at the College?

Year in year out, it is watching the seniors graduate and the pride they and their families take in that accomplishment.

Issue 18, Submitted 2011-03-09 10:46:17