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Saying no to the status quo: How institutions can break the mold of the “traditional” learner to meet diversifying needs of student populations

Meeting Today’s Learners: Reimagined

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  • Date

    Feb 21, 2023

    1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
  • Duration

    1 Hour

  • Location
    Time Zone: ET

It is no secret that the “traditional learner” is a concept of the past. More than ever before, the learner population is diversifying to include people in all walks and stages of life, each with their own unique needs; and it’s our job to meet them.

We must consider how the educational and workforce landscapes have changed and what that means for institutions: How can they meet the needs of today’s learners? How can they best prepare them for what’s next? Who are today’s learners, and how we can ensure we are serving the needs of the whole student.

Join Dr. Tia McNair, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Student Success at AAC&U; Jessica Zeitler, PhD, MSEd, Bilingual Instructional Designer II at the University of Arizona; and Carissa Fralin, Licensed Social Worker and Adjunct Faculty at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, for an insightful and much needed conversation around meeting the needs of today’s learners: Within the educational institution and as they transition into the working world, post-graduation. We’ll dive into topics such as:

  • How do institutions best understand the needs of their student body?
  • How do we meet the needs of the whole student, even beyond their academics?
  • What does ‘work ready’ mean? And how do we help students get there?


Jessica Zeitler
Jessica Zeitler, PhD, MSEd Bilingual Instructional Designer II, University of Arizona

Jessica Zeitler, PhD, is an Instructional Designer at The University of Arizona. Before joining the UCATT team, Jessica worked as an Instructional Designer and World Languages Faculty in Spanish for Pima Community College.

She is an alumnus of the University of Arizona where she earned a Ph.D. in Medieval and Golden Age Spanish Literature and Near Eastern Studies. Jessica earned a master’s degree in Spanish Literature from the University of Arkansas and also has a Master of Science in Education with a focus on Instructional Design from the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

The focus of her dissertation research was the development of educational practices and spaces as well as the establishment of the first institutions of higher education in medieval Spain and the Mediterranean.

Jessica’s research interests include Agile development, equity, inclusion, belonging, mentoring, online education, and UX design.

In addition to her work in instructional design, Jessica has taught undergraduate Spanish Language, Literature, and Civilization courses at the University of Arizona and led workshops on educational technology. Recently, she has presented and published internationally on medieval gender representation, presented at multiple instructional design and equity conferences, and designed and hosted a virtual Design Challenge (a project-based experiential learning event) for undergraduate students.

Jessica is an avid language learner (foreign languages or computer languages) and a long-distance runner. In her free time, Jessica listens to podcasts, writes, travels, and spends time with family and friends.

Dr. Tia Brown McNair
Dr. Tia Brown McNair AACU Associate Vice President Student Success

Dr. Tia Brown McNair is the Vice President in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Student Success and Executive Director for the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Centers at the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) in Washington, DC. She oversees both funded projects and AAC&U’s continuing programs on equity, inclusive excellence, high-impact practices, and student success. McNair directs AAC&U’s Summer Institutes on High-Impact Practices and Student Success, and TRHT Campus Centers and serves as the project director for several AAC&U initiatives, including the development of a TRHT-focused campus climate toolkit. She is the lead author of From Equity Talk to Equity Walk: Expanding Practitioner Knowledge for Racial Justice in Higher Education (January 2020) and Becoming a Student-Ready College: A New Culture of Leadership for Student Success (July 2016 and August 2022 Second edition).

Carissa Fralin
Carissa Fralin Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Adjunct Faculty at Metropolitan State University of Denver

Ms. Fralin is a 1991 graduate of Manchester University in Indiana with a double major in Peace Studies and Psychology. She went on to work with youth and then aging adults after college in both Illinois and Indiana. In 1995, she headed west to attend graduate school at the University of Denver. In 1997, she graduated with her Master of Social Work and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the state of Colorado.

Ms. Fralin has worked in the Denver Metro area for over 20 years. Her direct practice social work career has included the non-profit setting, child welfare, geriatrics, and health care. More recently, Ms. Fralin worked for the State Innovation Model (SIM) Office within the Office of the Governor for Colorado to integrate behavioral health and physical health throughout the state as the Program Implementation Manager. She then worked as a Program Manager for a non-profit agency managing a team of 20 people for a state-wide program providing advocacy and case management to adults, youth and children with severe persistent mental illness (SPMI). Ms. Fralin was also a Program Manager for the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (Colorado Medicaid) specifically focused on policy for children and youth with behavioral health diagnoses. She now works for a national consulting firm, Sellers Dorsey, providing subject matter expertise in behavioral health and writing to state Medicaid Requests for Proposals (RFPs).

Ms. Fralin has taught for the past 7 years for Metropolitan State University of Denver and the past 4 years for the University of Denver. She teaches for both universities in their Master of Social Work programs. She teaches online only and has had the opportunity to teach a variety of courses including clinical skills, health care and leadership, however, her areas of expertise are in behavioral health policy, health care policy and social policy.

Dr Cristi Ford
Host: Dr. Cristi Ford VPAA D2L

Dr Cristi Ford serves as the Vice President of Academic Affairs at D2L. She brings more than 20 years of cumulative experience in higher education, secondary education, project management, program evaluation, training, and student services to her role. In this role, she offers thought leadership and direction to the academic affairs unit of the organization. Her previous roles have allowed her to have impact in education from secondary and higher education settings as well as the on the international landscape. Her reach has allowed her to focus on building online education in the US and African continent.

In addition to her experience building new online learning programs and research related to teaching and learning in the online environment, Dr. Ford possesses significant experience in the design and delivery of integrated educational support, training, and transition services for young adults and children with neurodevelopment disabilities.

Dr. Ford was selected by the Online Learning Consortium, as the 2022 OLC Fellow which is the highest professional distinction offered by the association. She is a tireless advocate for quality online education where she has leveraged her passion and expertise in many realms in the education space. She is known for utilizing her leadership in extraordinary ways to help institutions build capacity to launch and expand online programming through effective faculty development, instructional design and pedagogical practices.

Dr. Ford holds a PhD in Educational Leadership from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and undergraduate and graduate degrees in the field of Psychology from Hampton University and University of Baltimore, respectively.