Beyond Critique: Director of Assessments Amanda Henrichs’ Mission to Cultivate Joyful Learning

Amanda Henrich Director of Assessments
Amanda Henrich, Director of Assessments

Amanda Henrichs has been the Director of Assessments at the Mount for about 2 years and uses they/them pronouns. Originally from Oregon, Henrichs reflected on how different their life was in the Beaver State, mentioning that they were “milking goats and making porridge.” They explained the geographical distinctions between Oregon and Massachusetts, noting that Oregon experiences more rainfall and is “always gray,” with mountains for skiing and even a desert known as the High Desert on the other side. Henrichs recommends visiting Crater Lake, describing it as “incredible, it’s an old volcano that is filled in.”

Currently, they live in Northampton where they’ve lived for the past 3 years with their partner and their three cats: Walter, Penelope, and Buford. “I spend a lot of time making bread or my big thing right now is making bacon,” they said. They also have a big garden at home, and gardening is another thing they enjoy doing in their spare time, along with playing video games.  They are passionate about social justice and love to learn about niche topics.

After attending the University of Oregon for undergrad, they continued their education at Indiana University at Bloomington where they got their PhD in English literature, specifically studying the poetry of the 17th century—poets like Shakespeare. Henrichs wrote their dissertation on how poets understand their literary tradition and further explained how the Renaissance was the rebirth of classical culture, and they argued that “…the poets in the 17th century have already done the rebirth. They’re kind of bored at that point. So instead of looking to the past for literary inspiration, they started to look inward and specifically, they looked to their own experience of time to write poetry.”

The role of Director of Assessments at the Mount is a complex one, providing assistance to various faculty and staff members, defining their role as assisting “faculty and staff help students learn more.” They clarified further, stating that they help staff set goals for what they would like students to learn and accomplish, measuring what students have learned, and learning what actions will help students learn more. It requires working with faculty and staff to understand what the student experience needs in the learning environment. Henrichs explained that their job is often misunderstood by many.

Jessica Freeman, a nursing major at the Mount, shared her understanding of the job, explaining that it involves reviewing “where students should be placed in classes and the classes that fit well for them.”

One common misconception about their role is that they’re only there to critique and point out flaws. “When people hear we’re going to start collecting evidence of student learning, they get really scared that that means someone’s going to criticize or be mad or they’re going to get in trouble,” Henrichs said, elaborating with an everyday comparison.  “I’m trying to make sourdough bread. So I’ve got my sourdough starter. Fun, very finicky. It needs to be stirred and it needs to be fed and all that stuff, and if I don’t do something, it’s going to mess up the product. So when I am making bread and something goes wrong, I need to assess what went wrong so I can fix it because I know that’s not the product I want.” In short, they assess what is going wrong or what is going right and how it can be fixed or used the next time to help students learn more.

Henrichs wishes they could feel more of the firsthand impact of their work since they don’t get to work with students as directly as they did at their previous jobs. In previous roles, Henrichs had been teaching composition and writing courses at schools such as Indiana University, UMass Amherst, Smith College, Amherst College and Holyoke Community College.

Ultimately, Henrichs is a person who enjoys learning. “I want learning to be incredible because that’s how I experience it,” they shared. “So I want everyone else to have as much joy in learning as much as possible.”

Originally published in the Mount Observer December 2023, Volume 18, Issue 4