Campus & Community

Five new house tutors bring fresh perspectives:

6 min read

‘Foot soldiers on the front line of ensuring students’ academic and personal well-being’

Allston Burr Senior
The new Allston Burr Senior Tutors will be active in academic, administrative, and disciplinary matters in undergraduate living. They include (from left) Stephen Kargère, Cabot House; John (Jay) Ellison, Lowell House; Carole Mandryk, Currier House; and Coral Fernandez-Illescas, Kirkland House. Paulette Curtis of Dunster House is not pictured. Staff photo by Stephanie Mitchell

A month into the fall term in the houses, the new paint smell has dissipated and shoes, posters, and CDs have found suitable resting places. But for residents of five houses, freshness remains, as new Allston Burr Senior Tutors in Cabot, Currier, Dunster, Kirkland, and Lowell houses acquaint themselves with their new jobs and with the students they serve.

Stephen Kargère (Cabot), Carole Mandryk (Currier), Paulette Curtis (Dunster), Coral Fernandez-Illescas (Kirkland), and John “Jay” Ellison (Lowell) were appointed to their half-time senior tutor positions by Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis in April 2002.

In Harvard’s house system, which strives to create academic microcosms within the larger University, senior tutors are the foot soldiers on the front line of ensuring students’ academic and personal well-being. Generally faculty members early in their careers, they manage a delicate balance of academic advising and disciplinary oversight.

“There is no divide between a student’s academic life and residential life,” said Thomas A. Dingman, associate dean of Harvard College for House Life and Human Resources and himself an Allston Burr Senior Tutor of the nonresidential Dudley House.

“Students living in the houses aren’t retreating from the academic experience,” he added. “They are living amongst teachers who have credibility with the other members of the faculty because they’re out in departments themselves, speak the language, and have gone up through the ranks writing dissertations and dealing with life as a graduate student.”

While students rely on their departments to provide academic advising specific to their concentrations, senior tutors – assisted by a team of resident tutors living in each house entryway – take on more general advising, guiding students on issues such as Core requirements, leaves of absence, study abroad, and independent summer study. Dingman said that tackling disciplinary issues with students is not necessarily at odds with academic advising: The root of the discipline problem likely will have an impact on a student’s academics.

Discipline aside, said Dingman, “It’s a wonderful job. You have the luxury of living amongst an extraordinarily interesting and energetic and talented group of students. And every once in a while can make a difference around the edges. That’s satisfying.”

Bringing a world of perspectives to the houses

Lowell House residents might think twice before straying from house rules: Their new senior tutor, Jay Ellison, spent four years as a police officer.

But Ellison, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School who recently received his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard, insists that his days on the beat are over. “I’m not a cop any more,” he said.

Still, he expects to draw from his experience on the police force to help him understand students at their best and worst.

“The students are people, and they experience the highs and lows of life,” he said. “One of the things the senior tutor has to do is to be there to help them when there’s crises and when everything’s going well.”

Ellison, a Hebrew Bible scholar who is lecturer on Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, looks forward to living among undergraduates in the house system, which he calls one of Harvard’s strengths.

“It’s a community, and it’s an interesting community because it’s academically related,” he said.

Kirkland House’s Coral Fernandez-Illescas brings a world of perspectives to her position, having sampled life and learning in her native Spain as well as London, Brussels, and Princeton, N.J. She recently received her Ph.D. in eco-hydrology from Princeton University, where she also served as assistant master at one of Princeton’s residential colleges. While that experience does not directly parallel Harvard’s house system, she said, she will draw on it in Kirkland House.

“I learned the importance of community-building and the importance of making people appreciate the diversity of talents around them,” she said. “It would almost be a shame if students spent their time in the house thinking this is just a place to eat and sleep as opposed to a place where they can also be challenged.”

Fernandez-Illescas, who is a lecturer in the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, hopes that some students will call on her somewhat unusual experience as a woman in science.

“It’s important that the academic and personal experience doesn’t stop at either the classroom or the house,” she said.

As co-chair of the committee on instruction in history and literature last year, Stephen Kargère spent lots of time advising history and literature concentrators – and loving it. That experience, as well as a positive impression of his own advisers as an undergraduate at Williams College, informed his decision to apply for and become senior tutor of Cabot House.

“I’m really looking forward to joining the Cabot community and to the challenges of the job,” he said last spring, anticipating that juggling advising with Administrative Board duties would be the greatest of those challenges.

Kargère, a lecturer in history and literature whose field is France and Britain, grew up in Paris and Geneva, Switzerland, before coming to the United States to attend first Williams then Brandeis University, where he received the Ph.D. A mandatory year in the French military, spent leading platoons in the Alps and the south of France, gave him some unique insight into human interaction that he will call upon in his position as senior tutor.

In her six years as associate professor of anthropology and archaeology wing tutor in the Anthropology Department, Carole Mandryk, like Kargère, learned that she loved advising and involving undergraduates in her research.

Now lecturer on anthropology and Allston Burr Senior Tutor in Currier House, Mandryk calls herself “the happiest person there is.”

“This is a dream job,” she said. “It’s almost too good to be true, but it’s true.”

Mandryk believes that her sons, ages 9 and 14, have provided a good foundation for some of the challenges she’ll face as senior tutor.

“I know that I can be woken up in the middle of the night and deal with a crisis,” she said.

Also a lecturer in the Anthropology Department, Dunster House Senior Tutor Paulette Curtis ’92 expects to receive the Ph.D. this fall for her dissertation about American veterans who have returned to Vietnam.

In addition to her personal perspective as an undergraduate at Harvard, Curtis also brings administrative experience as former assistant senior tutor in Winthrop House. Curtis has twice received the Distinguished Teaching Award from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning.