Enhancing Ourselves to Enhance Our Environment

December 12, 2022
  • Leadership and Management
  • Professional Development and Contributions to the Field
  • ascend
Illustration of a person checking off a list.

By Johnika Dreher, AACRAO ASCEND Participant, Strategic Business Development Manager

To get more people at the table, we need to invite them intentionally. They may have the skills but not the network. - Dr. Mylene Culbreath, Strengths Quest facilitator.

This November, I completed the intensive, year-long professional development opportunity offered by AACRAO entitled ASCEND Leadership Program. ASCEND is a leadership program for mid-career enrollment leaders, accelerating participants' capacity to lead long-range Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) efforts, such as considering complex enrollment problems, leading change management, and using data to inform strategies. The program requires that participants complete multiple online modules and assignments while receiving career coaching and mentoring from veteran SEM leaders. As a member of the phenomenal cohort two, I was fortunate to be coached and mentored by a trio of extraordinary SEM leaders, including Jody Gordon, Arlene Cash, Melanie Gottlieb, and Dr. Tomikia LeGrande.

I arrived at my former institution's door of Recruitment and Admissions following an institutional realignment. I was never formally trained in recruitment or admissions. While I managed to ask questions, analyze the data, execute student engagement, facilitate program development, and innovatively coach teams, I was never formally trained in recruitment, admissions, or strategic enrollment management. Naturally, people want to feel confident about their work. While I was confident in myself and had positive data points driving successful pre-college enrollment initiatives, there was a nagging spirit, wondering if I was doing this "enrollment" thing right. 

In addition to the online modules, SEM coaching, and career mentoring, we read and completed Clifton's Strengths Quest. I was first introduced to Strengths Quest by a former supervisor, Crystal Smith, precisely ten years earlier. I recall being excited about my strengths when I first learned of them. However, as time passed, work and life happened. While I remembered my strengths, I'll be honest; they drifted from my mind and intention. Yet, despite being significant assets that propelled me through four positions at my previous institution, I ignored their power. Throughout the daily trials of work-life balance or the lack thereof, I neglected their superpower within me. 

Enhanced awareness enhances leadership. - Dr. Mylene Culbreath, Strengths Quest facilitator.

I had a new lens on my strengths and myself. After completing the assessment again, only three of my initial strengths remained: Achiever, Learner, and Maximizer. But now I have two new ones: Relator and Strategic. Your top five strengths come naturally to you. One can do them with their eyes closed. Talk about the efficacy of a small win. As I occasionally doubted myself, I simultaneously honed my strengths and shot a dart very close to the target. Knowing your strengths and those of your team is empowering.

What will happen when we think about what's right with people versus what's wrong? - Don Clifton, author of Strengths Quest

My philosophy has been to lead from any seat you are in throughout my career development. Awareness of strengths impacts how we all show up in any space. Understanding others' strengths does not diminish my strengths. There is an opportunity to manage weaknesses as we mature talents, surrounding ourselves with others' strengths where there are deficits. The knowledge can enhance confidence and impart humility and collaboration among diverse individuals. 

Dr. Culbreath: Who makes lists for the weekend? Vacations? 

Me: Raises hand slowly

Dr. Culbreath: No judgment. It is the achiever in us. We believe in executing.

The culminating assignment is a capstone presentation where we curate a Strategic Enrollment Plan, including an environmental scan, data collection, and analysis. We develop strategies, goals, and tactics to present at the SEM Conference. I felt great during my presentation. Afterward, I enjoyed the entirety of the SEM Conference connecting with colleagues and learning from workshop presentations from a revitalized place of confidence, knowledge, and strength. 

I am honored to share that participating in the ASCEND Leadership Program was monumental for me and more than half of my cohort, who have acquired new enrollment management leadership roles since embarking on this journey. While the program is mentally intense, the experience was genuinely transformative for me, personally and professionally. The learning benefits me in my new role and with quickly grasping Organizational Development. Additionally, my professional network has expanded as I connected with new and previous ASCEND fellows, AACRAO attendees, and leaders such as Cassandra Moore, Dr. Tina DeNeen, and Dr. Cedric Howard. So, what's next? I have served in leadership for my AACRAO State & Regional Association - CAPACRAO, and I've been on a few AACRAO committees. I look forward to engaging more purposefully by shadowing an SEM Coach, writing for AACRAO, and continuing committee involvement. I can not thank Dr. Kimberly McNair enough for nudging me to apply. If you are on the fence, jump over already. You won't regret it.


AACRAO's bi-weekly professional development e-newsletter is open to members and non-members alike.