UVM Is: Patrica Prelock Builds on Her Experience Working with Autistic Children to be a Strong Leader


Patricia Prelock, Ph.D. came to Vermont in the Fall of 1994 without a job. She now sits in the Provost’s office as the Provost and Senior Vice President at the University of Vermont. So how does a speech-language pathologist with a focus on the nature and treatment of autism spectrum disorders end up as the Chief Academic Officer at UVM? If you ask Patty Prelock, she’ll likely tell you that leadership found her.
“I believe in making positive change and being a change agent; I also like doing the work that needs to be done and not just having the vision,” said Prelock. “I understand, though, that if you aren’t in a leadership position, you can’t make the change that you really want to see happen. And as long as I can continue to be an active a part of the academy by teaching, engaging in research, and mentoring future leaders in autism and neurodevelopmental disabilities to make a difference, then I am happy to take on a leadership role.”
Before joining the executive team at UVM, Prelock served as the Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences for ten years, as Department Chair in the College of Arts and Science for eight years, and as a Professor of Communications Sciences and Disorders. She studied speech- language pathology and audiology in a 5-year bachelor’s + master’s degree program at Kent State University and earned her Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh in speech-language pathology with a concentration in cognitive psychology. Her interest in communication disorders began as a young child when she tried to understand how to make life and communication better for her brother who had Down syndrome. When she realized that speech-language pathologists interact with all of the caregivers and the family to help support a child similar to her brother, she had found her calling.
“I found a passion for kids with autism, because they think differently, act differently, they challenged everything that I believed about how you should be learning, thinking and interacting.”

Navigating the Complexities of Autism Prepared Prelock for Leadership

She says that she draws on that experience of understanding theory of mind, perspective taking, and how to think differently to support individuals with autism, in her new role as Provost. Prelock was previously Interim Provost, but according to an announcement by UVM President Suresh V. Garimella on November 18 she was approved as the Provost and Senior Vice President, “given Patty’s outstanding performance and the recent, robust internal search that resulted in her initial appointment, the Board [of Trustees] and I have decided, with the unanimous support of the senior academic leadership of the university, to appoint Patty as provost and senior vice president, effective immediately.”
“I think we can learn a lot from other populations, as we try to help them communicate,” said Prelock. “Sometimes I worry that people with the skills in communication are compromising that ability and aren’t using it in a way that we should. It’s a gift. I work with kids who struggle every day to figure out how to share their messages and those of us who have an ability to communicate are not as thoughtful and mindful in our interactions as we could and should be. That’s a piece that I can add in this role today and model it.”
In her role as the Chief Academic Officer she focuses on what is best for UVM students and for the faculty to achieve academic success. She has direct responsibility for all the colleges and schools, Continuing and Distance Education, Enrollment Management, Student Affairs, the University Libraries, the Fleming Museum, the Gund Institute for the Environment and the Office of Institutional Research. “It’s a big job, but a fun job,” reflected Prelock. “I feel energized and have been fully engaged since I started. I have lot of energy and so does our new president. He has big ideas and aspirational goals which fit in really nicely as to where I’d like to see the institution go.”

Building Upon UVM’s Success

Prelock says she feels like it is an exciting time to be at UVM as she can support the trajectory of quality—set in motion by former presidents Dan Fogel and Tom Sullivan—but really focus on student success and access as part of UVM’s Land Grant mission.
“There are ways that I think we can provide a greater focus on our strengths in health and the environment, we have opportunities to expand our educational spaces for individuals who are careers changers, career advancers and career explorers. Our collaboration with Continuing and Distance Education (CDE), our focus on the Land Grant mission, and our President’s interest in building up the online, non-degree, non-credit space creates opportunities for generating new revenue that can then be invested in other priority areas like our research trajectory, or scholarships for students. For me it’s an exciting time for collaboration with our colleges and schools and continuing and distance education.”
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Prelock says that in her first six months as the Interim Provost and recently appointed Provost, her eyes have opened wider to the bigger picture at UVM and the value of true interdisciplinary inter-professional perspective. “Understanding different perspectives, knowing that it’s not just individuals with autism who have challenges with theory of mind and perspective taking and recognizing that one’s own perspective isn’t the only perspective gives me an edge in relating to all members of our community. Children with autism have taught me a lot about how to be a better leader