Shari Schwartz likes being in the middle of the action. That served her well when, just five weeks after she joined UNT as registrar, the coronavirus pandemic hit and fully remote learning began.
Schwartz led her team through the massive undertaking of transitioning the UNT spring course schedule to remote and online offerings, as well as redefining classroom use to provide for social distancing, defining a new pass/no pass grading system for spring, and moving the fall schedule to a mix of remote, online, partially remote and face-to-face sections.
They did all that while continuing the usual tasks of overseeing transfer articulation, conducting registration, maintaining the integrity of student records, conferring degrees, streamlining processes, and working with academic departments on their schedules and curriculum.
“I think with any emergency situation or sudden change in direction, assessing the current situation we face, and then identifying with others what needs to be addressed and in what order, is key to developing a solid plan that can be shared,” she says. “Having and sharing a plan helps everyone focus on what needs to be done and lessens any anxiety people may feel.”
Vice Provost for Student Success Michael McPherson had a front row seat as the Registrar's Office worked closely with the Division of Academic Affairs on the unprecedented changes.
“At a point where Shari might reasonably have hoped to have time to learn UNT's systems and culture, she was almost immediately confronted with major issues to sort out,” he says. “I have watched as enormous and complex challenges have fallen into her lap, most with a very short time clock. She's handled them all with the utmost professionalism and grace.”
Schwartz brought 37 years of experience with her to UNT, beginning as a student at Syracuse University, where she earned her bachelor's degree in journalism and master's in English education.
She worked in registrar positions at Syracuse; as a registrar in the State University of New York and at Georgia State University; and as registrar and regional assistant vice chancellor of enrollment, planning and management at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg.
In Florida, she was part of the emergency preparation team for the closure and opening of the campus when Hurricane Irma hit in 2017 as a category 4 storm and for other tropical storms. And at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, the Science and Technology Building caught fire in the middle of the night. Part of the building had to be closed for the remainder of one semester and the start of the next. Schwartz worked on rescheduling and relocating courses so students could finish their semester uninterrupted.
“Reiterating that we will get through this together is key, because you can,” she says.
Why You Are Here
Schwartz herself is a student, earning her Ph.D. in literary studies at Georgia State University. She is writing her dissertation on memoirs and traumatized texts and how the stages of recovery inform the writing. She also has taught as an adjunct.
“It's good for an administrator to be in the classroom periodically,” she says. “I think if you are dealing with the students one-on-one, it reminds you of why you are here. It keeps me in the forefront of the different challenges students have — and also the faculty.”
Her talent for working through challenges has been evident at UNT.
“Shari has done fantastic work in leading her team through these stressful times,” McPherson says. “And through it all she has somehow managed to keep her eyes on the future, and invests time thinking through process and technology changes that will make serving students easier for all of us.”
Schwartz says her goal is to make processes and systems better for students, faculty and staff by working collaboratively with others across the campus, and she's grateful to work with colleagues who share that goal.
“I also am fortunate to have an incredible staff,” she says, “and I'm energized to move things forward.”