Lisa Stephens named to Higher Ed AV Hall of Fame

Lisa Stephens.

Stephens in front of a wall in her office featuring awards that she has received during her 28 years at UB.

By Elizabeth Egan 

Published June 5, 2024

Lisa Stephens, assistant dean for digital education in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), has been named to the 2024 Higher Ed AV Hall of Fame.

“I am proud of the impact that FLEXspace has had and that I have been able to see it grow. It was a team effort of over 100 people volunteering their time and energy. I just happened to be the conductor of a very talented orchestra, and it was a pleasure being in that role.”
Lisa Stephens , Assistant Dean for Digital Education
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

The hall of fame class is presented by the Higher Education Technology Managers Alliance (HETMA) to honor individuals who have made significant contributions in higher education.

“Being named to the Higher Ed AV Hall of Fame is a capstone on Lisa’s career at UB,” said John Pfeffer, a principal AV technology architect at the University at Buffalo. “As someone who has worked with Lisa for most of her time here, I can think of no one more deserving. To be nominated and chosen by peers across the country speaks to her influence and worthy contributions to the higher education AV community.” 

A leader in flexible learning

For Stephens, who is also a senior strategist of academic innovation in the SUNY Office of the Provost, one of her most notable contributions is her influential leadership as a co-founder of FLEXspace, the Flexible Learning Environments Exchange.

In 1996, after years of working in broadcast and public access television, Stephens learned about a job opening in SEAS to help faculty capture their courses for online use.

“I liked working in public access television because I could see the social redeeming value of the work I was doing,” said Stephens. “Now, working in education to support faculty in making their jobs easier and expanding their audience is a great thing.”

Eventually, Stephens was appointed to the SUNY Faculty Advisory Council on Teaching and Technology, known as the FACT2 Council, to help create ways for faculty to best utilize technology resources across SUNY. During that time, a trend arose around active learning, says Stephens. Professors were expanding into different types of collaborative group work, and classroom designs needed to be able to support this. These efforts required facilities experts, audio-visual and information technology professionals, and faculty to work together and discuss how to best design classrooms for varying needs.

Stephens and her colleagues were asked to create the web portal that would become to provide a highly searchable database of classroom photos along with detailed attributes that demonstrated classroom designs across disciplines in a way that key stakeholders could easily understand.

“Lisa Stephens has impacted the Higher Ed AV vertical in a way that can never be forgotten,” said Joe Way, the executive director of digital spaces at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the co-founder and chair of HETMA. “As a founder of FLEXspace, she served as a trailblazer, bringing multiple stakeholders together in order to help institutions apply learning space design solutions to real-world problems. As an academic and assistant dean, Lisa was able to help share the needs of technical managers to the upper administrations of thousands of schools due to her involvement in key organizations like EDUCAUSE and HETMA. It is an honor to induct her into the Higher Ed AV Hall of Fame”.

When a university wants to design a new area, instead of having to research and visit other schools, they can simply look to FLEXspace for inspiration and create idea boards that Stephens likened to, “Pinterest on steroids.”  Today, the open-access learning space resource has users from 1,500 educational institutions across 78 countries.

“I am proud of the impact that FLEXspace has had and that I have been able to see it grow,” said Stephens. “It was a team effort of over 100 people volunteering their time and energy. I just happened to be the conductor of a very talented orchestra, and it was a pleasure being in that role.”

Seeing tomorrow's developments today

On top of her work with FLEXspace, Stephens has contributed to a number of initiatives across UB and SUNY. In the early 2000s, Stephens started the Distance Education and Videoconference Operations (DEVO) unit in the Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Technology at UB, which helped to make remote teaching and videoconferencing more accessible and increase learning options for students who could not be on campus. While leading this unit, in 2000, Stephens helped to coordinate a bicoastal class taught by professors from UB and Stanford.

Over the last decade, she served as the program manager of the SUNY Innovative Instruction Technology Grants (IITG) program, awarding over $7.5 million directly to faculty and staff to foster innovation across SUNY. She also led the SUNY partnership with Coursera, which currently hosts over 26 SEAS courses that have enrolled over 1.1 million students.

"Lisa has always had a knack for seeing tomorrow’s developments today,” said Bruce Pitman, professor in the Department of Materials Design and Innovation and interim vice president and chief information officer at UB. “Educational technology initiatives, both at UB and across SUNY, turn to Lisa for her perspective." 

Stephens will retire this summer after 28 years in SEAS. She noted that working with the SEAS faculty and the SEAS Online Education team as well as walking the hallways and interacting with students will be what she misses the most. In retirement, she looks forward to sailing with her husband and has plans for a cruise in Alaska and to potentially attend NASA’s adult space camp.

Among numerous other awards during her time at UB and SUNY, Stephens has received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Professional Service, the EDUCAUSE Community Leadership Award and the American Society for Engineering Education’s Best Session Award.

Stephens earned her PhD in higher education administration from UB, her master’s degree in television, radio and film from Syracuse University and her bachelor’s degree in communication design from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

She will be inducted into the hall of fame on June 10, at HETMA’s Higher Ed AV Awards in Las Vegas.