Unique Pathways to Leadership

January 10, 2022
  • Leadership and Management
  • ascend
  • Career  Development Skills

As part of our ongoing series highlighting AACRAO's ASCEND program, we were able to sit down with Anne Thurmer, Dean for the School of Liberal Arts and Humanities at Minnesota State Community and Technical College, to discuss her participation in the ASCEND program, her background, and what she's looking forward to in the coming year. 

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 opportunities for leadership.

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

Tell us about your background and current position: 

I started my career as a faculty member; I taught both composition and ELL students (English as a Second Language or English Language Learners) for about 12 years. In that time, I worked on a traditional 4-year public university campus and online for public and for-profit private schools. About ten years into my teaching, I was offered an opportunity to join this cohort working to improve outcomes at large for-profit universities. I got student-affairs training as part of that, specifically working with professional advisors, and got basic advising and financial counseling experience. 

The thing that was so cool was that my classes had had about a 17% success rate across the board; only about 17% of students who started finished with a passing grade on their first try. In this group, we were able to increase that to 78% just by adding in additional supports in terms of the best practices that student affairs were already aware of and working with. So I thought, okay, this is the future. If we’re really going to expand access to education for students from all different backgrounds, then we need to figure out how to do this and do it really well.

So I left a full-time faculty position and went back and became an advisor, I took about a 60% pay cut to do that, but I wanted to figure out how student affairs worked. I ended up working in a variety of different roles at a private 4-year college. I then moved back into a community college as an Academic Dean that lets me cross that Student Affairs / Academic Affairs “line” to really work on building programming and supports that help students be successful in college. 

Because of my role, I’m getting to be more aware of some of the Admissions side that I wasn’t involved in as much in previous roles. We do a lot of work through concurrent enrollment, so I’m thinking about “how do you get to a student before they’ve even started to think about college as an option” “how can you support someone who’s a sophomore, junior, senior to aspire to college and help them find the right pathway and be successful in that.”

AACRAO has been a really good resource for me as I’ve been exploring some of these questions - strategic enrollment management is especially useful to think about the alignment between mission, resources, and the needs of our students. It wasn’t a traditional pathway, but I’m hopeful more and more people will see how bringing together different backgrounds will help us figure out what’s next.

How did you learn about the ASCEND program?

I saw it on LinkedIn in my feed, and on the AACRAO site, and I honestly almost didn’t apply because I thought that I wasn’t going to be a good fit for the program, but then I thought, well, I’m interested in it so let them tell me if I’m not a good fit. So it was kind of a last-minute decision, but I’m just so excited to be able to form connections with people who do this kind of work, and I think it’s going to be a wonderful learning experience.

What do you hope to gain from the program, or what are your expectations going in (if any)?

I feel like there is a reticence to come up with definitive answers about student populations and strategies. I share in that reticence, so I really want to build my understanding of using data for specific purposes. I’ve used data for research but thinking about applying that to strategic enrollment management challenges, and I think just building that confidence and that competency around data, and being exposed to people who work very different roles than mine will help me understand my own place in some ways.

And taking that information and bringing it back to your institution and training others.

I’m so excited about that, I know that we have a mission that needs to be more fully lived out in our communities. We have these small rural campuses that have two or three hundred students, and we are providing a non-profit option in communities that would not be served without us. So I think figuring out how we can align what we’re doing with what those communities need in a renewed way is going to be critical for us and for them. Then we’ve got an urban campus that’s experiencing rapid growth, and figuring out how to support that in wise ways is definitely going to be a challenge. So there’s just a whole range of challenges as we’re trying to come out of the pandemic and figure out what we want to keep and what we need to do.

Learn more about AACRAO's signature LEAD (Leaders in Enrollment Advancing Diversity) initiative and explore opportunities to get involved.