Lisa Nesbitt: From Ditto Machines to High-Ranking School of Education

Photo credit: Shawn Kornegay
Photo credit: Shawn Kornegay

Lisa Nesbitt started working for the Neag School of Education at UConn in May of 1979. A lot has changed since then. She recalled the technology in the early days, “We were using typewriters, ditto machines and transparency makers, and old ‘Bertha’ the Xerox copier which was the only copier for the entire School of Education.”

It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that support staff started to see and use computers. The old IBM computers had dual drives with 5¼” floppy disks, and “were antiques compared to the computers we use today.”

She recalled learning MultiMate as the word processing program and then they upgraded to Swintec typewriters that could also be used as a printer using a special cable. E-mail was just being discovered across campus, through the university’s mainframe system.

When Nesbitt first started at the School of Education, she was actually a work-study student from E.O. Smith High School, and worked in the office of Dean Mark Shibles. At the end of her six-week program, she was offered a clerk typist position and officially became a state employee in June of 1979.

Her supervisor in the dean’s office, Louise Patros, was her mentor, and Nesbitt has always been grateful for the opportunity. She had interviewed with law office positions throughout the state, but the pay and benefits weren’t very good. Plus, the opportunity to work at UConn in Storrs and not travel to Hartford was more appealing.

Nesbitt has worked under six presidents at UConn and five deans in the School of Education. All of her time at UConn has been with the School of Education, except for a one-year-stint in the Office of Registrar’s official transcripts and records departments. Along the way, she earned an Associate of Science Degree from Manchester Community-Technical College, where she was on the dean’s list and president’s list.

She has seen many changes over time, including the addition built to the School of Education and renovation to the old side of the School of Education. Also, several new buildings have been built including a new School of Business, Chemistry, Gampel, the UConn Co-op, and two parking garages.

“The landscape has changed a lot in the last 32 years at the Storrs Campus with several buildings going up since I came here. Gampel was the most interesting because of the architectural design,” she noted.

She was also around during the renaming of the school to Neag. “In my opinion the Neag gift has impacted the school in many ways” she reflected, “from hiring more faculty with research and teaching aligned with the mission of the school, the new addition and renovation, to the endowed chairs, and building better quality programs with a reputation for excellence like the teacher education program.”

Nesbitt has numerous memories of her 32 years on campus. Some of her favorites include the many faculty and staff she has worked with through the years. Also, the graduate assistants, student workers, and many of the students she’s seen come through the School of Education.

“My most favorite memories go back into the 1980s when I was the youngest and most of the support staff was old enough to be my mother,” she recalled. “Jokingly, I had many mother figures at the time. I couldn’t get away with anything.”

Her funniest memories are best kept to herself, ones that she doesn’t think she could repeat. “It’s been fun and interesting working with the many personalities,” she said. “As the Las Vegas commercial says, ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.’”

Nesbitt thinks UConn is a great place to work because of the people, its location, and the landscape. “The University offers something to the people of this state and its surrounding communities. It’s fun to see the beginning of the fall semester and all the new and returning students,” she noted.

She has been with the Education Leadership Department since December 1987. She started as a Secretary 1, was promoted to a Secretary 2 then applied and was hired as the department’s administrative assistant in September 2000, after the current person in that role retired. “The EDLR Department has evolved through the years with the changes in technology, program changes, the kinds of research that faculty and doctoral students are pursuing, the creation of the Center for Education Policy Analysis, and many other changes,” she said.

“The current faculty is the youngest group of faculty I’ve worked for in EDLR and they are an ambitious group with many research ideas,” she said. “There have been a lot of faculty changes, especially over the last 10 years. Barry Sheckley, who retired in 2009, was the last of the original EDLR faculty when I first started working in the department.”

“Neag’s faculty, staff and students are nice people,” she said. “It seems that most everyone tries to work as a team and this is very important to the success of the school. In my opinion I would compare Neag as a competitive school of education and one that ranks pretty high with other schools of education across the country.”

In addition to her role as administrative assistant for the EDLR Department, she has been involved with numerous other projects. She was on the Neag committee for the Active Threat Training that was held for Neag faculty and staff last November. She also sat on the support staff Professional Development Committee until 2003. In the fall of 2009 she was recommended to be in a Human Resources study that was part of a subgroup interview by two students in Robin Grenier’s “Organizational Learning” course that was called the OSD Consulting Project.

“There have been several projects through the years that I was the support staff person,” she recalled. “The one project that will always stand out is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation State Challenge Grant for Leadership Development. This was a $1,960,000 grant through the UConn Foundation.

“This project stands out because of the large amount of money and the many extra hours processing paperwork through the UConn Foundation and the University in relation to the project. I spent many hours on Saturdays and weekday evenings on reconciling the Foundation and University accounting systems, processing payrolls, payments to vendors, and many other pieces involved in this project,” Nesbitt said.

In the next three to five years, Nesbitt sees herself working for the EDLR department in the Neag School and will probably retire from EDLR when the time is right.

When she’s not busy working or serving on a committee or helping with a Neag project, Nesbitt enjoys being a car and hot rod fan. “I am a member of a hot rod and custom car club, ‘The Road Agents,’ that put on one of the largest successful car shows on the East Coast up until three years ago. It’s a whole different culture and is fun if you like old cars,” she said. She also exercises by walking around campus.

Nesbitt was born in the foothills of the Adirondacks, and enjoys visiting her mother and siblings in northern New York and spending time with her large, extended family. Once in a while she likes to do some crocheting, some reading, and watching movies. In the future, Nesbitt plans to do more travelling.

After 32 years, she has seen a lot at UConn and looks forward to seeing more out in the world.