September 13, 2001
Before she became acting dean of Newcomb College, Cynthia Lowenthal had her favorite Newcomb duty--cueing students at commencement to stand before they filed on stage to receive their diplomas.
"I got to see the faces of all my students," she says. "And I would get hugs." At the Newcomb diploma ceremony this May, Lowenthal was not on the floor directing students. Instead, she was the person-in-charge on the stage.
But, even though she orchestrated the ceremony from lofty heights as dean, her natural warmth came through to the audience of graduates, parents, alumni and friends in the cold Louisiana Superdome. "I really liked the 50-year graduates," says Lowenthal. "We even got to chat together on stage." Lowenthal was tapped to serve as acting dean of Newcomb College last spring when dean Valerie D. Greenberg took a leave of absence to care for her ailing husband.
Greenberg has since permanently resigned, and Lowenthal will continue as acting dean for the academic year 2001-2002. Lowenthal, an associate professor of English, earned her doctorate from Brandeis University in 1987. She has long involvement with Newcomb College.
Hired in 1987 as one of the last group of faculty in Newcomb College, Lowenthal has been a Newcomb Fellow since the inception of the program in 1988, when the faculties of Newcomb College and the College of Arts and Sciences (now Tulane College) merged to form the Faculty of the Liberal Arts and Sciences. Lowenthal was named to the Newcomb College Committee in the early 1990s and later joined the Newcomb Foundation Board.
She has a strong research interest in writing by women, which is evident in her book Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Eighteenth-Century Familiar Letter (University of Georgia Press, 1994.) She also cares deeply about teaching students to write. "My passion is writing," she says.
Lowenthal served as associate dean of the liberal arts and sciences faculty from 1995 until last spring. In that position, she helped inaugurate freshman writing seminars taught by senior faculty members. "It pays off for senior faculty to teach these classes," she says, "because students come out of the seminars much better writers and thinkers. But the seminars are a lot of work. And they are intense."
Lowenthal plans to keep that intensity of teacher-student relationships in her work by occasionally directing independent studies courses for undergraduates and by continuing to advise graduate students. But, as dean, she also has discovered other ways of interacting with students. "I get to know more students in various contexts," she says. "It's lovely."
For example, Lowenthal meets often with the Newcomb Student Advisory Council, a group first organized by Greenberg so that students could have a vehicle to voice their concerns to the dean. Also, through Women in Science, a program for science majors, Lowenthal is getting acquainted with students whose interests are far afield of English and the humanities. Women in Science is just one group that had a reception at the Newcomb dean's house during orientation this fall.
Lowenthal says she's comfortable living in the two-story house on the Newcomb campus, close to the University Center and across the way from Howard-Tilton Memorial Library.
"It is not like living in a fish bowl," she says, after a week of parties for Dean's Honors Scholars, Intensive Newcomb living-learning students and Newcomb Town Moms. "I can go upstairs and have my privacy when I need to."
In addition to the co-curricular activities of Newcomb College, Lowenthal oversees academic advising, alumnae affairs, the Newcomb Art Gallery, Newcomb Children's Center and the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women.
Plus, she's on the road fund-raising. She's been to Atlanta, St. Louis, Dallas and Houston, and has plans to go to Washington, D.C., and New York this fall. "It's great fun," she says. "I love meeting Newcomb alums. It's one of the most satisfying parts of the job."
"Newcomb alumnae are curious about the college's programs and today's students," Lowenthal says. "And their interest is crucial for generating funding for projects such as the restoration of Newcomb Hall and for support of new scholarships and programs."
To complement the Women in Science program, Lowenthal would like to propose other programs with an intellectual bent such as Women in the Arts and Women Who Write. She is also interested in exploring the possibility of launching international internships, an idea suggested by the Newcomb Student Advisory Council. "I want to find additional ways for the college to support students academically and intellectually," she says.
Lowenthal is continuing to host Newcomb Dean's Coffees, a series of gatherings started by Greenberg. All Newcomb students are invited in groups on a rolling basis to have coffee with the dean at her house. And all Newcomb students impress Lowenthal. "Not just the extraordinary students," she says. "But the average student, too, has talents and gifts that amaze me."
Lowenthal says she sees Newcomb freshmen enter college, smart and articulate, but not yet fully formed.
"They have potential, but it is untapped. By the time Newcomb students are seniors, these young women have grown into themselves," says Lowenthal. "They embrace who they are. They have a kind of moral courage. 'This is who I am,' they say. It is gratifying to watch them grow, academically and personally," says Lowenthal, "and to get hugs from them at commencement, too."
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