Participating on a panel of women leaders at the NUTN conference on October 11 in San Antonio provided the opportunity for reflection on our journey as leaders. The panel was facilitated by Dr. Pam Quinn, provost of the LeCroy Center, Dallas County Community College District. My co-panelists included Dr. Diane Melby, president of Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, and Dr. Adelina Silva, vice chancellor for student success, Alamo Community College District.
What an amazing group of women leaders! In addressing our personal pathways to leadership and the most important characteristics to achieve it, it was fascinating to hear the ways our stories intersected. Common themes included never setting out on a path for a particular position, i.e., who really grows up thinking “I will become a provost, president, or chancellor?” This is especially true for those of us who are first-generation college graduates.
While we came from diverse backgrounds, the stories of how we grew as leaders started with our families and their belief in us, their challenge to stretch rules and boundaries and do something more with our lives, with families who believed in the value of education and supported us. Each panelist shared stories of such defining moments and the most important characteristics for achieving leadership, including courage, self-knowledge, risk-taking, humility, being open to possibilities, and walking through doors to an unknown future or next step.
We were asked to speak to what differentiates us as leaders in online learning and what we see as the biggest opportunities and challenges for future leaders. Each institution is positioned differently vis-a-vis online learning. APUS is 100% online, while Our Lady of the Lake’s online programs are primarily at the graduate level and Alamo is engaging in initial steps for online learning. Among the current and future opportunities for online learning we shared were the primary opportunity of increasing access to higher education through increased flexibility for students, a core APUS mission.
The biggest challenge commonly raised for institutions seeking to expand their programs online was the question of quality. Quality does matter! For some schools, the digital learning experience is simply the classroom experience delivered via a LMS. In fact, the quality of learning and the learning experience in a digital space takes creativity, design, and focus on learning design effectiveness. Another challenge is providing the total student experience to students who take online courses via a traditional campus, yet all student services (advising, book stores, registration, library, student organizations, etc.) remain traditional and the virtual student does not have equal access.
In sum, the panel provided a rich and unique opportunity for women leaders to share our passion, our perspective and our experience as leaders in higher education.