Cigdem Talgar Named Vice Provost for Education for Tufts University

Talgar, currently associate vice chancellor in the Educational Innovation division at Northeastern University, starts December 1 

Cigdem Talgar, associate vice chancellor in the Educational Innovation division at Northeastern University, has been named vice provost for education. She will start in the position on December 1.

In this newly created role, Talgar is charged with marshaling the university’s resources to develop an innovative and holistic strategy for the future of education at Tufts. She will be a strategic partner with the school deans on academic planning, and, collaborating with colleagues across Tufts, she will be responsible for coordinating activities designed to enhance the student experience.

Talgar arrives at Tufts with more than 20 years of experience in the collaborative design, development, implementation, and assessment of several institution-wide programs that have delivered inclusive and transformative learning environments for students. As one example, at Northeastern, she founded the Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning through Research, which led the charge to advance a culture of educational innovation and integrate inclusive, high-impact, and evidence-based practices university-wide.

At Northeastern, she worked with colleagues to evolve the university’s co-operative education program to ensure that students could connect what they were learning in the classroom to real-world experiences. As a critical part of Northeastern’s pandemic response, Talgar co-led the development of a fully online program that integrated project-based learning—contextualized with global challenges—ensuring a robust learning experience for students, whether they were in Boston or elsewhere in the world.

A cognitive psychologist by training, Talgar has expertise in attentional processes mediating cognition, memory, and learning, as well as in the use of experiential learning and educational innovation to support robust and equitable learning environments. She has received multiple National Science Foundation awards to advance this work and has consulted with numerous institutions on educational innovations that integrate experiential learning, inquiry-based education, assessment, and holistic learning pathways into curricula.

Tufts Now spoke with Talgar about her passion for this work—as well as her call for input and insights from the Tufts community.

What inspired you to leave the classroom and take a leadership role in teaching and learning?

I don’t see this vocation as moving away from the classroom; education is so core to who I am and what I do, that’s something I would never do. Instead, I see this work as fusing my passion for teaching with my background in the cognitive sciences. Collaborating with cross-university colleagues in direct support of how our students learn has become a way for me to broaden the impact I have been able to have on students.

As for the why, I’m driven by curiosity. I want to know: Why is that teaching strategy more effective at reaching students? What makes some students more open to this approach than others? And how can we use what we know about human learning to meaningfully implement impactful practices across different scales?

One of the factors that drives the way I approach designing programs and initiatives is by thinking about and understanding how humans manage cognitive load and its impact on how we are able to attend. We have students from so many different backgrounds, balancing lots of commitments.

It’s important to me to fully understand how all aspects of students' contexts contribute to their cognitive load: What role is motivation playing? What about distraction? What’s the personal context—is this a student who’s also working full-time? Is this a first-generation student with whom we can share tools for managing the multitude of experiences in which they might be engaged?

Above all, I want to ensure that the ways we’re teaching are anchored in research—and that we have established environments that are learner-centered and that, to the degree possible, allow us to step into the shoes of the students whom we teach.

What’s one contribution you hope to make as Tufts’ new vice provost for education?

I’m thrilled at the prospect of working with the university community—including leaders, faculty, students, alumni, and community partners—to establish the vision for a Tufts education. To that important work I offer my understanding of learning science, educational innovation, and an understanding of the challenges opportunities that lie ahead for our students upon graduation. A career for which a student comes to college may no longer exist when she graduates four years later, while a multitude of new paths may emerge during her studies.

Students spend eight percent of their working life in college. Our responsibility is to give them the opportunity to build skills like information literacy as well as a comfort with ambiguity that will enable them to be flexible and agile and seek out opportunities for lifelong growth, so they thrive for the remaining 92 percent of their careers.

Tufts offers a robust learning environment today, a rich context in which, together, we can ask questions like: What should Tufts graduates be able to achieve in the world? What type of lifelong learners do we want them to be? How do we position them as agile, resourceful problem-solvers, poised to take on global challenges?

What is the optimal role for technology in teaching and learning?

When leveraged effectively, technology provides the opportunity to expand our ability to advance high-impact, evidence-based learning pathways for students. This means understanding how human learning works and implementing innovative technology solutions that will help learners best navigate their learning environments and help them connect their learning across environments. 

I have viewed my work at the intersection of technology and learning as an opportunity to advance an inclusive and transformative vision for education. How can we use technology to bridge the gap between educator and learner, and ensure that everybody is able to take on both roles? How can we ensure that our learners, with their unique experiences and backgrounds, can also step into roles where they can network and share their skills with each other? And how can we help learners seek out pathways that will honor their past while creating new opportunities for them to grow and thrive?

What’s a helpful piece of advice you’ve received as a professional?

Something I hear a lot from friends and colleagues is “Don’t work so hard.” For a long time, I resisted that counsel because I am deeply passionate about my work—I am thinking about it all the time.

A few years ago, though, one of my university’s senior leaders gave me a different angle on that advice: “Find a passion other than your work.” That clicked for me.

What I decided was that, because of my background in vision science, I would take up photography. But I said to myself, “I’m going to use this as an opportunity to teach myself the way our students teach themselves new skills outside of the classroom, by leveraging all different sources, including YouTube and social media.” I saw it as a chance to deepen my understanding of how our students self-direct their learning.

So, I bought a used camera, and the rest is history. While I am by no means a pro, if you see me around with my camera, please just humor me and smile.

If you could share a message with the Tufts community, what would it be?

Actually, I’d love to turn the tables and pose some questions to Tufts Now readers:

First, what are your greatest hopes for Tufts graduates? What aspects of the Tufts education, culture, and experience are you deeply proud of? And where are the opportunities ahead of us—the places where you would like to see Tufts go next?

Please email with your responses to Talgar’s call for insights from the community. All responses will be shared with her as she starts her work as Tufts’ vice provost for education.

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