Former dentist earns ‘historic’ post at Sacred Heart U.

FAIRFIELD — Maureen Ruby began her career as a dentist, but switched to teaching to help advocate for her son and other students like him struggling in school.

Ruby has since helped countless students, but also has taken a special interest in helping teachers acquire the tools they need to support students. One major manifestation of this goal came when Ruby helped create and teach in the new educational leadership doctoral program at Sacred Heart University.

Now, Sacred Heart’s Isabelle Farrington College of Education & Human Development has named Ruby as its Isabelle Farrington Endowed Chair of Social, Emotional & Academic Leadership. In the role — which is the first of its kind at the university — she will continue teaching but also be supported in her mission of researching social-emotional learning approaches to leadership in different fields.

“This whole leadership approach is even more important than it was when we developed the program,” she said.

Ruby said, this was an offer she could not turn down given the current climate around education in the United States and students’ needs after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her new role will focus on helping prepare educational leaders with expertise in social, emotional and academic leadership, Michael Alfano, dean of FCOEHD, said at an April 8 event honoring Ruby.

He called her appointment a historic moment for SHU.

“Dr. Ruby is the first endowed chair in Sacred Heart University’s history—an appointment that was made possible by the generosity of Isabelle Farrington, a longtime friend of Sacred Heart,” Alfano said.

University officials said Ruby’s likely not the last.

“Endowments, such as this one, are key to attracting and retaining world-class faculty,” Robin Cautin, Sacred Heart University’s provost, said at the event. “They reflect the strength and caliber of our academic programs. They are also indications of the bold institutional aspirations we hold. I have no doubt that this endowed chair will be the first of many to come.”

An endowed chair is one of the highest positions a professor can earn in higher education.

It doesn’t make her the chair of the doctorate program, but rather is a special position funded by an endowment that will allow her to spend less time teaching and more time doing research.

Alfano said Ruby’s focus on research, training and advocacy in that space will help elevate the work being done in the college in a critically important area.

Ruby said she is open to research topics, and wants to engage with pioneers and risk takers who want to add another dimension to their fields. Through this cross-collaboration, she will bring back what she has learned and improve the educational leadership program.

“I think the way we make things better is to learn from each other,” she said. “None of us is the holder of the magic bullet. By working together, that’s how we create the magic to make things better.”

Ruby said she is interested in liaising with the school of health sciences to look at how they program for a social-emotional lens in their fields, such as nursing, speech and language and physical therapy.

“Those are high-stress jobs and they’re dealing with people,” she said. “You have to look through the lens of your biological and medical sciences, but you also have to really have that good emotional IQ and interpersonal skills.”

She also wants to research how leadership approaches social, emotional learning in their departments throughout SHU to see how she can help them. She is also very interested in how parents support their children early on.

Ruby got her Ph.D in education after becoming a teacher because she found herself wanting to get to a level where she could help teachers have the tools to do their jobs well. That goal lead to her becoming a professor, she said, noting she was the program coordinator for reading and language arts at Eastern Connecticut State University.

In 2011, she was recruited by New London Public Schools to be the literacy coach and supervisor of professional learning and career management for the district. Ruby said she has always been interested in serving the under-served, adding she had a great time working with students and teachers there.

Ruby then moved to the director of special education and pupil personnel services in Norwalk Public Schools. In 2015, she became assistant superintendent in the Brookfield Public School system. She also did a fellowship at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

“It was absolutely transformative,” she said of the fellowship. “It brought this need to do this social-emotional approach to leadership to a crescendo for me.”

Ruby said she once heard Marc Brackett, founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, describe it as an approach to education, not a program or box to check off. She said that description really struck a chord with her.

Throughout her career in education, Ruby said one of her core beliefs is that everybody needs to feel valued and be treated with respect.

“If you make mistakes or you don’t fit the mold, like my son, you’re not a throwaway,” she said. “You need to be taken care of and you need to have a sense of belonging.”

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