12 Reasons Why Higher Ed Leaders Are Grateful

12 Reasons Why Higher Ed Leaders Are Grateful

As we approach the end of another difficult year for higher education, rather than tallying up everything that went wrong, we'd like to focus on things for which we're grateful. At the University Innovation Alliance, higher ed leaders inspire us with the resilience that keeps their colleges and universities running. Not only that, presidents and chancellors lead with gratitude, despite the challenges they experience. We've gathered 12 of our favorite affirmations, shout-outs, and hat tips these leaders have shared with us over many episodes of the Innovating Together Podcast – gratitude for their colleagues, those they serve, their communities, and the work they do – in the hope of reminding you about your own reasons to feel grateful.

Gratitude for Their Colleagues
So many of the people that we've interviewed display grace and humility in sharing the praise for their accomplishments with colleagues, staff, and team. Here are some of the more eloquent tributes.

1. "These situations created a lot of angst and pain and ambiguity and uncertainty, but they also bring out the best in people, and there have been so many constant reminders of why the mission of our institutions of higher education matters so much." - Ángel Cabrera (President, Georgia Institute of Technology)

2. "I really value the people who work for me. Their dedication is extraordinary, and I try and let them know, pretty much every chance I get." - Samuel Stanley (President, Michigan State University)

Quote by Samuel Stanley re: valuing the dedicated people who work for him and always letting them know that he does.

3. "I found the excellence and how committed all the people who work for me at Purdue Global, how dedicated they are to student success, how willing they are to work hard to help students move forward, has all just been inspiring." - Frank Dooley (Chancellor, Purdue University Global)

Gratitude for Those They Serve
Most higher ed institutions will say that they are student-centered, but what does that really mean? Many leaders back up that claim by constantly demonstrating their gratitude, kindness, and empathy with the students they serve.

4. "I have never regretted a time when I was able to support a student, and it often led to more systemic and structural changes." - TJ Stewart (Assistant Professor of Student Affairs & Higher Education, Iowa State University)

5. "It is so worth stopping and asking a student how they are before you ask them whether they’ve chosen their courses. You will hear, in that moment, the issues that they’re actually facing." - Sara Goldrick-Rab (Professor of Sociology & Medicine, Temple University)

6. "Commencement is probably the most memorable occasion, seeing people launching careers and lives after studying at the university. There’s nothing quite as powerful as that." - Ed Ray (Former President, Oregon State University)

Grateful to Their Communities
Colleges and universities don't exist in a vacuum. Beyond the physical campus community, these institutions affect and are affected by their local neighbors and the regions they serve, as well as the families of their students, faculty, and staff. Some higher ed leaders took a moment to express their gratitude for all of their communities.

7. "We had an overwhelming highest percentage of voter support ever. It was 60%. Our community, and I believe other communities across the country, see their community colleges as part of the solution going forward." - Marcia Ballinger (President, Lorain County Community College)

8. "Elite institutions were never designed to be in community with folks who have the greater public good in mind. If that has occurred, it’s because students, community members, staff, folks who are clear about the role of education in society, pushed the institution to do that and held them accountable." - Gaye Theresa Johnson (Associate Professor, University of California, Los Angeles)

9. "Sometimes it speaks so clearly to our own experience that it's nice to be able to share that approach, share that quote, and realize that we're all in a big community." - Wendy Wintersteen (President, Iowa State University)

Grateful for the Work They Do
Leadership is a skill, a science, a mindset, and a lot of work. Many of our guests reflected on how fortunate they feel about being able to serve.

10. "The most helpful advice I received was the importance of being an authentic leader. That's just a key to leadership, being authentic to who you are." - Maria Flynn (President and CEO, Jobs for the Future)

11. "I’ve been trying to be really upfront that I'm on the Distinguished Service Academy, not because I'm bragging, but because I want it to be known that the university has recognized my contributions in this area and so many other colleagues who are doing this work as well." - Richard Reddick (Professor & Associate Dean, University of Texas at Austin)

Grateful for the University Innovation Alliance
And while we don't want to brag, either, it's always gratifying when a leader acknowledges the work that we do at the UIA.

12. "Having access to exceptional UIA colleagues leading innovative universities, and being able to share in these experiences and best practices is a great opportunity for us and for me personally." - Harold L. Martin, Sr. (Chancellor, North Carolina A&T State University)

Quote by Harold L. Martin, Sr. re: gratitude for access to UIA colleagues who share experiences and best practices.

We're incredibly grateful to work with the innovative, compassionate, and service-oriented leaders whose guidance elevates so many notable higher education institutions. We're grateful to be a part of their collaboration with one another, and to provide support and resources to make higher education and graduation real possibilities for those students who might not otherwise have the opportunity. We're also grateful for our ability to be a platform of information that can help so many innovate in their own corners of higher education.

Note: The interviews cited in this blog were drawn from the Weekly Wisdom and Scholarship to Practice Series originally aired between April 27, 2020 and August 19, 2021 as part of the University Innovation Alliance’s Innovating Together Podcast, created in partnership with Inside Higher Ed.

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