If you check out newly appointed Vice President of Online Education Dr. Piyusha Singh’s iPod, her playlist might surprise you. It includes everything from 80s pop music, to country music (a recent interesting addition) to Bollywood (India’s version of Hollywood) tunes. You may think that’s a random mix, until you read more about the native of India who has moved to Missouri by way of upstate New York with a mix of degrees in biology, geography and public policy.
But that mix of interest and knowledge makes Dr. Singh the perfect person to take the Columbia College complex online education program, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this month, to the next level. With a focus on improving the college’s online offering and increasing faculty-student interaction, the mother of two continues to evaluate and improve processes throughout the program.
“I have worked with Dr. Singh before and know how talented she is,” says President Scott Dalrymple when she was hired in the early summer. “Dr. Singh puts students first and always strives for excellence.”
Learn more about Singh’s vision for the online education program and more in the latest CC Focus.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in India. My dad was part of the Indian Navy so we moved around a lot, mostly up and down the Indian coast line. I spent a year here in the States when I was ten, and then I came here at 17 to go to college at Mount Holyoke, which is a women’s college, but it’s very much like Columbia College’s Day Program, a small, Liberal Arts College.
Who is someone that was or is a mentor to you professionally?
I think I’ve had certain inflection points in my career where I have had mentors who have helped me move to the next level. When I was a graduate student and young faculty member, Dr. Jacqueline Cohen, was someone who really challenged me to be a better teacher and researcher. Similarly, when I moved into higher education administration, (Columbia College President) Dr. Dalrymple was one of the first people I worked with (at Excelsior College in New York) and he helped me hone my leadership skills. Those are probably the two biggest mentors I have had and I continue to learn a lot from them.
What is your favorite type of food?
Anything Asian – Thai, Indian, Chinese, Japanese. I would say my favorite food is Indian food though, home cooked, not by me! I actually love to cook, it’s a form of relaxation for me.
What intrigues you about online learning?
What intrigues me the most about online learning is how it breaks down barriers. It hasn’t just broken down the very obvious time and space barrier, that’s sort of the easy answer. But because we’ve broken down that barrier, so many other barriers have come down with it, allowing people to get an education in a way that fits their lives. I love the idea that it makes higher education less elitist by breaking down barriers of age, cost, time and geographical location. I went to some very traditional institutions where I received a great education, but that’s not the only form of education that should be available.
Higher education has given students the message ‘if you want an education, you must come to us at this age, at this time, with the resources to do this full time, otherwise we are not interested in you.’ That’s changing now, and I think online education has been very central to facilitating that change.
What are some enhancements and updates coming up for the Online Program you are excited about?
We have a lot of changes coming up. The first year, we are focusing on internal changes to become more efficient and do things better. I don’t know that anyone outside our department will see the changes right away, but we are positioning ourselves for the future. The question we are continually asking ourselves is ‘What is best for the students? How do we improve the student experience?’
One of the first things we are looking at is improving all our courses so that students have a more consistent experience. We want to improve all our courses and make them as engaging and immersive as we can. The goal is to get to a point where we can say ‘This is what you can expect from a Columbia College online course. If you study with us, this is the experience you are going to have, this is what you are going to learn’ and know that we can stand behind that promise.
Another upcoming project is to find ways to allow our instructional faculty to focus more on their interactions with students. We have excellent faculty who are really committed to our students. We’re focusing on strategies to make things more efficient for them, to remove some of the busy work so they can spend more of their time engaging with students.
Why did you decide Columbia College was the right fit for you?
I wasn’t looking (for a new job). I wasn’t thinking of moving, but when Dr. Dalrymple came here, I learned more about Columbia College. As I learned more, especially about how CC is such an interesting mix of traditional and online education I was very intrigued. It’s rare to find and for me, coming from the traditional mindset but being able to be in a big online program was very attractive. I feel like the two balance each other well. What we end up with is a good mix, a solid mix of quality and innovation.
You have now lived in Missouri for 3 months, what are your impressions of Columbia and Missouri?
It’s funny, every time I tell someone I came from New York, they are like, ‘whoa, culture shock’ but that’s actually not the case because we came from upstate New York which is a lot like Columbia. In some ways, Columbia has a bigger town feel to it because of the college town vibe. I have to add the caveat that I have two young kids, so my life is the same no matter where we live, but I like it, I really like it. People are very welcoming and warm. I have never lived in the Midwest before, so there is a big difference there. We really like Columbia.
Can you share a little bit about your family?
My husband’s name is Justus, who works in the Columbia College Technology Services department and we have two kids, Rohan (6) and Neera (1). We have two dogs of indeterminate origin, all I can say is that they shed a lot in this Missouri heat.
What are some things you enjoy doing outside of working at Columbia College?
I have a lot of interest in coaching and how coaching can help people develop the skills they need to be successful. I first learned about coaching when I was a graduate student and really saw how useful it was when I was a faculty member supervising PhD dissertations and advising adult students. I would see all of these students and their smarts were not the problem, they were smart enough to do what they needed to do – it’s just other things that were holding them back. Coaching tools are very powerful in helping them figure out what the issue was and get past. That’s an interest that I keep up and educate myself on regularly.
I have a little boy (Rohan), and I promised him when we moved to Missouri, I would get into fishing with him, but I am not sure I like it (she says with a smile). When we’re not out exploring Columbia, I enjoy a good book.
What kind of music do you enjoy listening to?
I’m an 80s kid. I have also become interested in country music, which is new for me. I don’t know if you know about Indian Bollywood music but it also makes its way into my playlist.