Marcia Sells will officially assume her position as Dean of Students on September 21, fulfilling the position vacated by Ellen Cosgrove’s departure for Yale Law School. After experiences ranging from ballet to private practice to academia, Sells is looking forward to her role in the Law School’s Administration.
“I like figuring out how to make things work well,” said Sells. “There are opportunities for collaboration between different offices—which is true in any field, especially higher education. I also like the engagement with people who are at different stages of their professional and intellectual development. It is nice to be there, and hopefully have some role in helping people find the beginnings of their paths.”
Although Sells will not be on campus full-time until later this month, the initial transition in leadership began at the orientation programming for incoming first-year law students. The Dean of Students Office gave presentations on professionalism to the 1Ls, a conversation Sells hopes to extend to second and third-year students. Over the 2015–16 academic year, Sells has set several goals for the office. She hopes to build meaningful relationships with student leadership and develop programming to connect student organization involvement to career success. Sells also plans to strengthen communications between different offices, and to better integrate the experiences of J.D. and LL.M. students.
In the time between Cosgrove and Sells’ leadership, Director of Student Affairs Jeffrey McNaught commanded the Dean of Students Office.
“Our goals as an office will continue to be making the student experience at Harvard Law School as positive and fulfilling as possible,” said McNaught. “We support and coordinate a range of extracurricular activities at the Law School from Moot Court competitions to student journals, to student organizations and residence life as well as a variety of all-school activities including orientation, graduation, wellness programming, conferences, and other events which serve to entertain, educate, and cultivate community in the Law School.”
In the Harvard Law Today, Dean Martha Minow stated, “After a national search, attracting immensely talented candidates, Marcia stood out because of her deep and diverse experiences in higher education, in law, in community relations, and in building capacity for individuals and organizations and her demonstrated vision and accomplishments. She is warm and wise; she will be an invaluable resource for our students and our entire community. I very much look forward to her leadership here.”
According to McNaught, the national search was conducted by an outside search firm, which incorporated the contributions of students, faculty, and staff. Affinity groups and the Board of Student Advisers accentuated the importance of diversity and inclusion throughout the search. “The goal was to have the ideal candidate selected for the start of the school year, and we achieved that,” McNaught said.
Sells’ background entails experiences in both the private and public sectors. She was a member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and later graduated from Barnard College. Sells attended Columbia Law School and began her legal career as an Associate District Attorney in Brooklyn before joining Chadbourne & Park’s litigation department. She then returned to Columbia Law, where she was appointed to serve as the Dean of Students. Afterward, Sells worked as the Vice President for Organizational Development at Reuters America and as the Vice President for Organizational Development & Human Resources and Vice President for Player Education and Development at the National Basketball Association. Most recently, she served as the Associate Dean for Outreach and Education at Columbia Law School and Associate Vice President for Program Development and Initiatives for the University’s Office of Government and Community Affairs.
Dean Sells does not expect the year to be without challenges, noting that students across the country are concerned about whether their universities are properly addressing major issues including racial injustice, sexual assault, and first-generation students. But she is prepared for tests her first year might bring.
“We can make sure that we are aware of issues, educating students properly, and bringing faculty into those conversations. I am looking forward to what lies ahead.”
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