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Leading Change in Higher Education

HGSE alumni working in the field return to Appian Way to share lessons learned and insights gained.

When students arrive on the first day of class for Judy McLaughlin’s Proseminar in Higher Education, they join a community of diverse and dynamic peers who bring a wealth of personal and professional experience into the discussion-driven classroom.

What they might not expect, however, is that their learning will be enhanced by the regular appearance of expert guest speakers in the class, most of whom are higher education professionals and HGSE alumni themselves. From college presidents and deans to professors and trustees, guest speakers help fulfill the course description’s promise of teaching the “critical issues facing colleges and universities and their repertoire of strategies and management skills for tackling those issues.” And as the course evolves over the semester, HGSE’s convening power within higher education becomes readily apparent.

“The main reason I invite alumni as guest speakers is that they have been successful in leading change and can offer students important insights about higher education,” says McLaughlin. “But I also appreciate how they talk with students about the reasons they came to HGSE, their experiences here, and the connections between what they learned in our classrooms and their current work.”

Brian Mitchell, Ed.M.’15, associate dean of Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business, visited the class this fall during its exploration of higher education as a distinct organization type. Prior to entering higher ed, Mitchell had a two-decade career in the pharmaceutical industry, so he is uniquely positioned to offer perspective on the significant organizational differences between higher education and business.

To enhance the class’s discussion about the relatively new role of diversity officers on college campuses, Matthew Antonio Bosch, Ed.M.’03, spoke about his current role as dean of student inclusive excellence at Elon College and discussed the many other roles he’s occupied in the field over the course of his career.

“I appreciated Matthew Antonio’s openness and willingness to tell his personal story,” says Casey Schuller, a Proseminar student.  “The paths he has taken through very different schools gave us a sample of the breadth of possibilities in the field. I also value his very actionable recommendations on diversity training, faculty buy-in, and finding small wins.”

Other speakers included HGSE Associate Dean for Strategic Academic Initiatives Julie Vultaggio, Ed.M.’04, who joined the group to discuss the restructuring of HGSE’s master’s programs; Liya Escalera, Ed.M.’09, who spoke about the challenges and successes she has experienced as a community college dean; and S. Caroline Kerr, Ed.M.’12, a former college admissions professional, high school college counselor, and CEO of the Joyce Ivy Foundation, and current member of Dartmouth College’s board of trustees. Kerr offered some valuable career advice to the other young professionals in the room.

“Working on multiple sides of the desk allows you to see the bigger picture,” Kerr told the class. “It’s more about the people than the things; once you’re in the realm of shared values, you’ll enjoy any job, even if the format shifts along the way. Org structures matter, but relationships matter just as much.”

A common thread for the Proseminar guests — as well as the students in the room — is their HGSE experience. Whether their time on Appian Way helped them to clarify career goals, helped with a career pivot, or acted as a launching pad for their futures, all the guests agreed on its lasting impact and they are thrilled to give back by returning to campus.

“Our alumni encounters over the course of the semester have helped me realize that our time on Appian is a two-way street,” says Proseminar student Matthew Chan. “Just as HGSE challenges us to be the best educators we can be, an aspect of that challenge is continuing to shape the school for the better.”

HGSE President-in-Residence Jim Mullen, president emeritus of Allegheny College, was a vital part of the Proseminar, joining in-class discussions, advising students on assignments, and talking through career planning as someone who has held the top administrative titles in higher education. Yet even Mullen is in awe of the leadership connections the Proseminar speakers offer.

“They are an incredibly impressive group of alumni,” says Mullen. “They can speak in detail to some of the important systems within a university, many of which I only know from a birds-eye view. The students I have had the privilege of meeting at HGSE this year represent the best values of American higher education and are a source of great hope for the future of our colleges and universities, so it comes as no surprise to me that there are so many impressive alumni of this program who are willing to come back and share.”