Sharing Knowledge and Strategic Thinking

March 21, 2022
  • Learning Mobility
  • Professional Development and Contributions to the Field
  • ascend
Group of professionals around a table conducting a meeting.

Continuing our ongoing series highlighting AACRAO's ASCEND program participants, we sat with AACRAO Member Johnika Dreher, Program Director for Early College Access and Orientation at Prince George's Community College. Throughout the conversation, we discussed her background, participation in the ASCEND program, and how the ASCEND program has influenced or expanded upon her strategic goals. 


About the ASCEND Program

The ASCEND Program is designed to prepare mid-level professionals in the competencies required to take the next step in enrollment management leadership. The year-long intensive program seeks to:

  • advance the careers of program participants and provide them with important professional development;

  • help AACRAO and regional associations develop a “deep bench” of talented, motivated leaders from diverse backgrounds; and

  • provide individuals from identified under-represented groups in the association community (i.e., people of color, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender people, people with disabilities) with support, access, and leadership opportunities.

The curriculum design incorporates AACRAO Professional Competencies and Proficiencies and leverages AACRAO's existing professional development opportunities.

Ms. Dreher's extensive experience, more than 18 years, in higher education and her current role as Program Director for Early College Access and Orientation have helped her develop various cross-functional skills. When speaking on the influence of her AACRAO membership and participation in the ASCEND program, Ms. Dreher said:

I am so far into the middle that I tend to forget I'm a part of the "front door." So through AACRAO and Ascend, I'm really learning how important the "front door" is, how important my role is, and all the other things that I can do within that role.

Coming from various backgrounds, including residential life, multicultural affairs, student activities, retention, and many other roles at her institution Ms. Dreher has always been loosely connected to that "front door." Still, through the ASCEND program and her experience with SEM, she is gaining insight and helping to shape what the "front door" experience looks like. 

Environmental Scanning

Defined as "an assessment of internal and external issues and factors which potentially may impact an educational institution," environmental scanning presents an excellent opportunity for stakeholders to identify opportunities, strengths, and weaknesses. Mrs. Dreher has been deeply involved with this at her institution, twice in fact, and is deeply familiar with this work as a participant. Speaking on her work in environmental scanning through the ASCEND program and what insights the program has brought, she said:

Connections started to pop for me, (and) I didn't have to be so laser-focused. Really looking at what we had, nine themes, and looking at what those nine themes meant. Then from those nine themes, we could decide what to focus on... So it's been very eye-opening. I would say the biggest thing that I would take away is the threats more so than the strengths and even the weaknesses. I think I kind of know after 13 years; it was mostly the opportunities and the threats that I focused on, as those are things you could change, right? Those are things that you can impact.

Continuing, Ms. Dreher spoke on some of the other aspects of the program that she found insightful, saying:

...The communication, ways in which we can be more transparent about identifying our brand. That really stuck with me because it wasn't just external; it was also internal. The ways in which recruitment and admissions and other departments know exactly what each other does and what their story is and how they move the needle and how they support students.

Mentorship and Support

Each ASCEND participant is assigned a mentor to help guide them through the program, support their goals, and offer advice. These mentor/mentee relationships encourage leadership development and provide a valued resource for participants as they progress. Ms. Dreher commented on her mentor, saying: 

...My mentor was instrumental in helping me actually. She went over the environmental scan with me because I was working on some goals for our next project assignment. Which is identifying your strategic goals for your area to develop your plan. ...We've had amazing conversations about leadership, about growth, and asking better questions. ...Whenever I get off the phone with her, I just feel a sense of energy, a spirit of support.

When asked if she would recommend the ASCEND program to others thinking about applying, Ms. Dreher responded, "Yes, absolutely. 100% recommended." She continued by highlighting the unique role she plays at her institution and how even though her position (both her work and her position at a 2-year institution) doesn't fit the typical profile, the benefits of the ASCEND program have been myriad.

Interested in learning more about AACRAO's ASCEND program? Visit our Signature Initiative page and join the list to stay up-to-date.


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