An Ashford Academic Leader Talks about her Journey, Ashford’s Future

dr iris lafferty at work in her office

A fourth-generation educator, Dr. Iris Lafferty started out wanting to do anything but.

At Harvard, she received a Master’s in Counseling with the goal of going into clinical practice but a series of events, coupled with an insatiable curiosity, drove her back toward education.

“I couldn’t help but think, ‘you need to know more about this, but look, this is somewhat related, I need to know more about that as well,’” she said. “That’s the beauty of having a liberal arts degree: it’s the critical thinking and the problem solving—the resourcefulness—that can propel you in whatever organizational setting you end up in.”

Interning at Boston Children’s Hospital as a grad student, she realized that rather than help one patient at a time, she could make a greater impact through research. She was determined to achieve her terminal degree, and yet she wanted to ensure her skills were marketable. Thus, an additional master’s in Education and Technology led to a doctorate in education, all at Harvard which Iris considers the “best, most romanticized 7 years of my life.”

She was determined to achieve her terminal degree, and yet she wanted to ensure her skills were marketable.

Once out of school, she taught at a number of institutions in California—Cal State San Marcos, MiraCosta College, Palomar College, and Biola University—mostly in the evenings and some online as she juggled her career with a young family.

She also scratched the research itch from time to time, including a project to help the U.S. Navy figure out why Top Gun fighter pilot attrition rates were climbing (which segued into owning her own government contracting business for a time.) The answer—the need to deploy well defined career paths for the purposes of retention—carried over into her eventual work with Ashford University.

“Just the other day, I carried it into a conversation here, when we were talking about students and what are some of the ways we can help to keep them on track, and part of it is in self-regulation and locus of control; having them know that they have command over their educational career in different ways,” she says.

In 2012, after deciding her heart lay with education and finding herself drawn to the administrative side of academics, where—once again—she could impact more students, she was hired by then Executive Dean and now Chief Academic Learning Officer Andy Shean into the College of Education as program chair for the Instructional Design and Cognitive Studies programs.

“I have a love for education as a whole and at this point absolutely see both sides that are necessary to make education work,” she says. “Although I miss being in the classroom, I really remember to look at the cogs that turn the administrative wheels.”

She particularly values the balanced approach Ashford brings to prepare students for a career while instilling higher-order thinking.

“We take the sage off the stage, so learning is really the responsibility of the learner but it is the subject matter expert’s role to provide the resources and coach them into the proper ways to think about the subject, as opposed to dictating,” she says. “We do teaching and learning very well.”

Now, as Associate Vice President, Academic Services, she sees where Ashford has been and sees it as poised to lead the industry in modular learning options and individual learning pathways within an equitable admissions framework.

“If we sit here and wait for things to happen to us, they happen to us,” she says. “But we need to happen to the world.”



Written by Lauren Coartney, Corporate Digital Content & Social Media Manager for Bridgepoint Education

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