On August 28, 2016, a day before Sarah Lawrence College’s pre-health students were poised to return to campus, they received an email from their long-time advisor Judy Levine:
“I regret to say that, due to irreconcilable differences, I have resigned as prehealth advisor at Sarah Lawrence College. I wish you well as you go forward. I’m sure you’ll be informed as to next steps,” Levine said.
This was the first notice Sarah Lawrence’s 67 pre-health students received of their advisor’s resignation. Several days later, they were notified via email that Dean of Studies and Student Life Danny Trujillo would be assuming Levine’s responsibilities in addition to his own as Dean.
Concerns among pre-health students vary. Some are worried that they will not have direct access to Dean Trujillo as they would with a dedicated advisor, and that first-years will not receive important information.
“It sucks for the freshmen who need the assistance,” said Uditi Nichani, a second-year student in the pre-health program. “And for the students who convert to pre-med, who do they go to now?”
Kendal Flowerdew, another pre-health student who is also a sophomore, said she thinks new students will not miss out on anything.
“It’s really just an inconvenience,” she said. “Freshmen won’t have a hard time because they didn’t even know Judy.”
Ellie Goldstein, a sophomore in the pre-health program, said that having a dedicated pre-health advisor is “helpful and necessary,” and that she is concerned that the Science faculty is being held responsible for too much of the advisor’s responsibilities.
Levine’s responsibilities have been divided between several faculty members. Dean Trujillo has taken on some of her non-academic functions, such arranging for guest speakers within the medical field and trips to medical schools, and faculty members of the Science department have been assisting students with satisfying their course requirements.
However, Dean Trujillo said that this is the way pre-health advising has always worked at Sarah Lawrence.
“It’s a coordinated effort; one person cannot do all of that for students,” he said. “That coordination is absolutely critical.”
According to the Dean, the Office of Community Partnerships also plays a huge role in the advising process by providing students with opportunities to work within and around the Sarah Lawrence community. The student-run Pre-Med Club has also had a role, voicing concerns to Dean Trujillo and giving faculty an idea of what students need.
An information session for first-years with an interest in this program is held during interview week. Last year, Dean Trujillo hosted the meeting with Judy Levine. The only difference this year? The Dean held it by himself.
Dean Trujillo said that, while he has been meeting with students one-on-one, much of the responsibilities of academic advising have always been a part of the Science faculty’s duties.
“The reason for the quality [of Sarah Lawrence’s pre-health program] lies in the level of faculty engagement,” Dean Trujillo said.
Colin Abernethy is a Chemistry professor who teaches many of Sarah Lawrence’s pre-health students. He said Science faculty members have always had a hand in advising pre-health students, especially in regards to the academic prerequisites required by medical schools.
“That’s part of advising, just making sure that students get the right courses in an appropriate order to both have all of the prerequisites but also to be able to prepare themselves for the MCAT exam as best they can,” he said.
Abernethy said MCAT preparation has become another problem, though he thinks it will be resolved quickly. The MCAT, or Medical College Admissions Test, is a rigorous exam that tests students on their knowledge of scientific principles. Most students take the MCAT after they graduate, according to Professor Abernethy, but they spend years preparing for it.
MCAT preparation has been handled in the past by Scott Calvin, a Sarah Lawrence Physics professor who is resigning at the end of the fall semester, according to Professor Abernethy. However, Professor Abernethy said “that will be resolved sooner rather than later.”
“We’ve had meetings with the Dean already, and arrangements will be made to bring someone equally qualified to campus to help students with MCAT prep,” he said.
According to Dean Trujillo, he and his office are taking this opportunity to reexamine Sarah Lawrence’s MCAT prep; whether it should be a part of coursework or separate, and whether it should be an intensive workshop or a longer program.
“That’s the question we’re looking to answer: what is the best format for our students, because obviously [they] have a full course load. I think everyone is trying to be very, very careful not to overburden students,” Dean Trujillo said.
The splitting of the Advisor’s responsibilities between two groups of people has come at a time when the pre-health program is in a state of relative flux, according to Professor Abernethy.
“This is a time of transition for the pre-med program anyway, because a lot of medical schools have upgraded their requirements. The MCAT itself has just undergone a major revision; it’s a brand new exam,” he said.
This being the case, the absence of one dedicated pre-health advisor may not disrupt the lives of Sarah Lawrence pre-health students in any significant way. However, the lack of notice regarding Judy Levine’s departure has left some students in the dark and wondering who they should go to have their questions and concerns addressed.
However, Kendal Flowerdew felt that the situation is not dire and that students have the advice they need. “Danny and the professors have been extremely helpful,” she said.
Despite the former advisor’s absence, Dean Trujillo was certain of one thing: “The preparation that our students experience here at Sarah Lawrence for any health-related profession is excellent,” he said.
Ricky Martorelli '19