As the semester draws to a close, the college has announced a series of retirements from and promotions to prominent positions at the college. Chief of Campus Operations Jim Brassord, Associate Dean of Students and Director of the Counseling Center Jackie Alvarez, and Interim Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer (CEIO) Allen Hart are phasing out of their positions. Current Associate Director of Diversity, Equity, and Training for the Counseling Center Darien McFadden will replace Alvarez, and current Associate Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion Angie Tissi-Gassoway is filling Hart’s position until a new permanent CEIO is hired.
Brassord joined the college in 1997 as the Director of Faculties, and later assumed the position of Chief of Campus Operations. He received a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (BSME) from the University of Connecticut, a Masters in Mechanical Engineering (MSME) from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Connecticut. In his free time, Brassord has competed in more than twenty marathons and five Ironman competitions. Additionally, he is an accomplished rower in the Amherst area. In 2017, Brassord completed a 1,600-mile charity row from Miami to New York City, raising $120,000 for the John P. Musante Health Center.
As Chief of Campus Operations, Brassord has overseen operational functions in Dining Services, Facilities, Planning Design, and Construction and Public Safety. He has spearheaded the renovation of more than two-thirds of the campus’s buildings. He also has led the Greenway project, Science Center construction, the college’s partial landscape residesign, and the construction of the new Student Center.
Additionally, Brassord launched the Book & Plow Farm, helped establish the Center of Sustainability, and contributed to the development of the Climate Action Plan. Finally, Brassord was a force in creating the New England College Renewable Partnership.
Brassord’s retirement was announced by President Biddy Martin in an email sent on Dec. 6. In the email, the President stated that, “Jim will officially give up his day-to-day duties on March 31, 2022, and then serve as an advisor to the college for one more year.” Emphasizing his invaluable contributions to the college, Martin asked the community to join her in thanking Brassord for service to the community.
Alvarez assumed the position of Associate Dean and Director of the Counseling at the college in July of 2014. Before her seven years of service, Alvarez worked as a Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Gustavus Adolphus College and Oregon State University. She received a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Psychology from the University of Notre Dame and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) from The Ohio State University. In sum, Alvarez has served as a Counseling Center Director for 31 years and a university counselor for 25 years.
While at the college, Alvarez has doubled the staffing of the counseling center from seven and a half to 19 members. She has diversified the staff in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and nationality. Alvarez has also filled two full-time psychiatric staff positions.
Alvarez has been instrumental in bringing new services to the Counseling Center, including the app-based support program MySSP, the college’s urgent care offering, 24/7 after-hours care, and affinity and therapy groups. She has also worked to expand mental health promotion more generally. Her initiatives have included the ProjectConnect, Peer Support Skills Training, the Wellness Challenge, and the college’s Annual Walk for Mental Health and mental health fund.
Alvarez’s retirement was announced by Dean of Students Liz Agosto on Dec. 7. In the email, Agosto encouraged the community to join her in “thanking Jackie for her immense contribution to Amherst College.”
In a statement to The Student, Alvarez reflected on how the landscape of mental health care has changed at the college over the years. “Seven years ago, if you had asked an Amherst student if they were in counseling, or if they even knew that the college had a Counseling Center, you’d have been hard-pressed to find people who would have said yes,” she wrote. “Today, 50 percent of our students are accessing care, talking about it openly, and encouraging one another to get the support they need.”
“I believe the work of our office has been central in making these shifts happen,” Alvarez continued. “The challenge no longer is how to get students to come in. Now, it is how to keep up with the demand for services, and how to change our culture to center well-being.”
Toward these ends, Alvarez expressed pride for the team she will be leaving behind, commending their compassion and creativity in approaching the essential work that they do. “I’m so honored to have been a part of that team,” she concluded, “and I’m so happy that Darien McFadden will be offering his leadership, wisdom, and experience to shape the next iteration of the Counseling Center.”
In the same email announcing that Alvarez was stepping down, Agosto relayed that Associate Director of Diversity, Equity and Training Darien McFadden will be filling her role. Darien F. McFadden received his Bachelor of Art’s (B.A.) in psychology and English Literature from Colgate University. McFadden went on to earn a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh and complete his doctoral internship at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Center for Counseling and Psychological Health.
Before assuming his present position at the college in 2006, McFadden worked at the Counseling Center from 1992 to 1998. Between his time at Amherst, McFadden served at the Behavioral Health Network/Pioneer Valley Mental Health Services in Springfield, Massachusetts, and at Hampshire College Counseling Services. In total, McFadden holds more than 30 years of clinical experience.
During his time at Amherst, McFadden has created Queer Talk and Release — two affinity group programs — and implemented the college’s first formal postgraduate clinical training program.
In a statement to The Student, McFadden expressed gratitude for the opportunity to serve as the new director, noting that “my work in the Counseling Center has truly been the best job of my life.” He also outlined some of his goals in stepping into the new position, including building on the work of increasing access to mental health care, honoring diversity and inclusion “in all of its numerous intersectionalities,” and focusing on wellness and resilience in students. “I want students to recognize the expanse of their own inner power and strength,” he wrote.
McFadden concluded by acknowledging the remarkable team that he will be working with, as well as welcoming student voices and input. “I am so grateful for the guidance of past and current mentors,” he wrote, “and I hold dear the voices and experiences of the numerous students I have been honored to share space with at Amherst during my time here.”
McFadden will start as the new director of the Counseling Center on Jan. 1, 2022.
Associate Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion Angie Tissi-Gassoway moved into the role of Interim Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer (CEIO) on Dec. 1. She stepped in for Professor Allen Hart as acting CEIO as the college continues to search for a permanent replacement.
Gassoway earned a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Public Health Education and Promotion from Oregon State University. She also received her Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) from OSU. In 2015, Gassoway graduated with a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Social Justice Education from UMass Amherst.
Beginning her work with the college in July 2012, Gassoway has worked closely with former CEIO Norm Jones. Gassoway has overseen the Identity-Based Harm Review Team, supervised the Office of Identity and Cultural Resources, co-chaired the Cultural Heritage Committee, and participated in the Student Anti-Racism Advisory Group and Racial History Steering Committee.
President Biddy Martin announced Gassoway’s promotion in an email sent on Nov. 30. In her email, Martin quoted former interim CEIO Allen Hart who said, “Angie and I worked closely together when she served as the Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion and I was the Faculty Equity and Inclusion Officer. She has the expertise, temperament, self-awareness, and respect of her colleagues needed to thrive in this interim role. We are fortunate to have Angie in our midst.”
Martin sent a quote from Gassoway emphasizing the honor and excitement that she had as she stepped into the new role. “Over my past nine years at the college, I have had the privilege to see and be part of many transformational DEI initiatives,” she said. “In collaboration with members of the division and colleagues across campus, I stay committed to uplifting and moving the work of DEI forward at Amherst College.”