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Lisa Kerr

The Graduate School is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Lisa Kerr as the Assistant Dean of Professional Studies & Experiential Learning, or OPSEL. OPSEL is an expansion of the Professional Development Program, which previously had been in place in the UAB Graduate School for more than 25 years.

Kerr, an Assistant Professor in the School of Education’s Department of Human Studies, has served as the Director of Community Outreach and Engagement in the Graduate School for the past two years. She was instrumental in the development of the LEAD graduate certificate and MS/MA Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies (IGS) degree program. She was the Director of the Vulcan Materials Academic Success Center before that. Her current scholarship focuses on student success among hidden populations, critical thinking, and leadership development.

“I’m really excited to serve in this role that supports student success and professional development while contributing to UAB’s engagement in statewide workforce development efforts,” Kerr said. “Some of the new initiatives within OPSEL are intentionally designed to increase access to graduate education as well as provide learners with opportunities to gain the advanced skills they need for their hybrid jobs.”

OPSEL will house the course offerings formerly in the PDP, and will oversee administration of the new MA/MS in Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies (IGS), and new certificate programs, including LEAD, Academic Advising in partnership with the School of Education, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Advocacy in partnership with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. OPSEL will also be home to the newly approved statewide initiative, Alabama Advanced, Specialized Skills, Education & Training (AL ASSET) program, which is a vision of Dean Lori McMahon.

OPSEL embodies UAB’s graduate education mission by offering interdisciplinary academic and professional development programs designed to support leadership and career advancement among diverse student populations. OPSEL has three components – academic initiatives, co-curricular programs and professional development offerings.

The first component, academic initiatives, are the curricular programs through which students earn graduate credit. Currently, this includes the MA/MS in Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies and the Leadership and Professional Development, Mentoring and Leadership, Research Communication, Research Laboratory Management, and CIRTL Practitioner/Scholar Graduate certificates.

The second component, co-curricular programs, are learning opportunities that facilitate focus and momentum among students to support their academic success, progress, and persistence through degree completion. This includes activities like the Accelerate Your Dissertation Workshops and the weekly Academic Writing Group.

Finally, the professional development offerings include initiatives that are intentionally designed to provide students and practitioners opportunities to learn, master, and share knowledge and skills. These include local learning communities and free workshops that focus on professional development skills such as emotional intelligence.

AL ASSET is a new statewide initiative developed to identify competency-based standalone graduate certificates that meet workforce development needs. AL ASSET certificates are different from other UAB graduate certificates in that they require an experiential learning component and can be transferred between UA System campuses, plus other participating institutions across the state and stacked into an interdisciplinary master’s degree. AL ASSET certificates offered across the state will be advertised on the Alabama Commission of Higher Education (ACHE) website.

“The AL ASSET program is designed to provide learners and professional practitioners the opportunity to stack designated certificates among participating universities throughout the state,” Kerr said. “The AL ASSET program aligns with the Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation in that every certificate designated as an AL ASSET demonstrates its alignment with competencies of an in-demand career within the state.”

How it works: A graduate certificate is created and receives approval. It is then proposed to the Alabama Council of Graduate Deans who reviews the certificate to ensure it aligns with an in-demand career and demonstrates how it will assess an individual’s competency. There are currently two AL ASSETs – the LEAD certificate and an Academic Advising certificate, both of which are offered at UAB.

“I’m sincerely excited to have this opportunity to apply my passion for education with my dedication to the professional development of practitioners,” Kerr said. “I look forward to collaborating with colleagues across campus, members of our local economies, and academic institutions throughout Alabama. There is a lot of great work being done and I’m thankful for the opportunity to do my part.”

“We are extremely excited about all of the new educational initiatives recently launched in the UAB Graduate School, including the new innovative certificates developed across our campus and within the Graduate School and the new MA and MS in Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies degree where learners can stack certificates into a master’s degree,” McMahon said. “The AL ASSET statewide program has the potential to be a game changer for workforce development and it allows the universities across our state to collaborate in innovative ways to deliver high quality education at the graduate level to enhance the workforce.

“AL ASSET certificates are accessible to undergraduates, too, following completion of at least 60 credit hours of undergraduate education and upon approval by their academic advisor,” McMahon added. “Assistant Dean Lisa Kerr’s creativity, talent and dedication are invaluable in the success of these new initiatives. We thank Provost Benoit, Dr. Tonja Johnson, Senior Vice-Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs, the UA System Board of Trustees, and the leadership of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education for their support of our new initiatives.”

For more information about OPSEL, visit Office of Professional Studies and Experiential Learning webpage or email

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