UMassOnline Advisor Spotlight: Lisa Aronson Fontes, PhD

UMassOnline is excited to share our first Advisor Spotlight blog. All of our incredible advisors are available to students throughout the five campuses, as well as online. Here is a profile of UMass Senior Lecturer and advisor Lisa Aronson Fontes, PhD.

What was your background in education and helping students?

Dr. Fontes: I’ve been a fulltime faculty member for 23 years. After teaching students in several different colleges and universities at the undergraduate, masters and doctoral levels, I embraced the challenges of teaching and mentoring online about a decade ago. My background as a psychotherapist helps me understand some of the difficulties faced by adult University Without Walls (UWW) students, and it gives me a useful platform for helping them design their academic and career plans. I am also committed to multicultural competence, providing readings on related topics in my courses and doing my best to make sure all students--regardless of their national, racial, ethnic, or language background--feel welcome and successful in class.

What do you focus on when assisting the students?

Dr. Fontes: I focus on helping students identify their goals and then plan to achieve those goals. This plan often includes a combination of coursework and internship or job opportunities. I also empower first generation college students  to voice their needs and ask professors for clarifications or help when they require it. All too often, students from less privileged backgrounds don't understand how academia works, and they don't realize they can ask for an extension if they are facing special circumstances. Professors may not grant those extensions, but without asking--they will never know.

What have you learned in the field?

Dr. Fontes: I have been a fulltime academic since 1992. However, in no way have I been "stuck" behind the walls of the academy. I have raised three children. I engage with mental health professionals, social workers, and law enforcement from Chile to Guyana to Spain, in order to improve responses for crime victims. I blog for Psychology Today and the Huffington Post, and I like to think that I serve as a model for students, especially women students, who want to have meaningful careers and raise families.

Some readers might be surprised how close the advising relationship can be with distance learners! Every student is an individual and requires different responses and interactions. Some students come to UWW with great anxiety about returning to school, while others are very comfortable and seek advice about doctoral programs. Individualized advising is what enables UWW students to succeed. Providing individualized advising is also what makes my job fun and every day different.


Lisa Aronson Fontes, PhD, has dedicated two decades to making the social service, criminal justice, and mental health systems more responsive to culturally diverse people.

Her most recent books are:

  • Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship
  • Interviewing Clients Across Cultures: A Practitioner's Guide
  • Child Abuse and Culture: Working with Diverse Families

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