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Episode 43

transformed: Kinetic Leadership for Kinetic Transformation

In this episode, Dr. Margaret McMenamin – President of Union College of New Jersey – describes the kinetic leadership required for kinetic transformation, supported by examples from her experience and the best way to measure results.

Joe Gottlieb: (00:01)

Welcome to Transformed a Higher Digital podcast focused on the new why’s, the new what’s, and the new how’s in higher ed. In each episode, you will experience hosts and guests pulling for the resurgence of higher ed, while identifying and discussing the best practices needed to accomplish that resurgence. Culture, strategy, and tactics, planning and execution, people, process, and technology. It’s all on the menu because that’s what’s required to truly transform. Hello, welcome and thanks for joining us for another episode of Transformed. My name is Joe Gottlieb, President, and CTO of Higher Digital, and today I am joined by Dr. Margaret McMenamin, President of Union County College.  President McMenamin, welcome to Transformed


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (00:53)

Hey, Joe, happy to be here. What do you wanna talk about? 


Joe Gottlieb: (00:57)

Well, I wanna talk about how you see kinetic leadership enabling kinetic transformation at, actually, I should be correct myself, Union College, the, the reclaiming of your proper title. Um, but first tell me a bit about your personal journey and how it shaped your perspective and passion for the work that you do in higher ed. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (01:18)

So, I was born in a big family in New York City, and when I decided to go to college, I didn’t decide it was assumed I’d go to college. I decided to study physical therapy because I wanted to help people, and I also wanted to get a job when I graduated. That was important to me for my independence. And when I worked in physical therapy, I loved helping people, but I discovered that I could help even more people if I taught physical therapy. So I started teaching at the local community college, but once into teaching at the community college, I saw some leadership issues that I thought perhaps maybe I could do a better job. I think all of us experienced that. We think if I was in charge, things would operate a lot better than they are now. So one thing led to another and I decided to make the leap into the dark side. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (02:12)

That’s what we say in higher ed from faculty to administration. And I started out as a dean first. Well, I worked my way from instructor to full professor, tenured full professor, but then moved into a dean’s role. When I made that leap into the dark side, I knew my target would be a presidency. I didn’t leave the greatest job in the world teaching physical therapy at a community college to just become a dean. I wanted to lead the organization. I wanted to become a president because I thought I had some good ideas. So that’s how I’ve kind of meandered my way into first healthcare to help people. And then education where I thought I could have a broader impact by helping more, uh, to mold more future professionals. And then when I figured education maybe needed a little bit more change, moved into leadership there. 


Joe Gottlieb: (03:11)

Well, glad you joined the ranks, because that change, I think is, uh, is a great opportunity. And in fact, during your tenure at Union College, I noticed that you have quintupled the student graduation rate. I, I can’t imagine a more kinetic metric for, for measuring higher ed. So tell me a bit about how you got started on that road to improve the graduation rate at Union College. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (03:38)

Okay. Well, I’ll tell you what, it goes back to way back in the 1980s, I was a faculty member and I got retrenched. I remember the day I was laid off, I didn’t even know what it meant, retrenchment. They called me up and said, you’ve been retrenched. I had to look it up in my big dictionary, find out what it was, but I was retrenched due to low enrollment. So I became, I was eventually called back, back into education, enrollment went back up, but I became one of those few faculty members who was interested in student enrollment and frankly, student success because retention of students impacts enrollment. So my first foray into student success was through retention. But then I realized the holy grail isn’t to get ’em to stay in school, not to get ’em to flunk out, definitely, but it’s to get them to stay in school and progress to some outcome to graduation as an outcome. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (04:36)

And when I, uh, got into leadership, I became that leader who was interested in metrics like enrollment, retention, and graduation rates, all as measures of student success, because from a moral perspective, Joe, that’s why we’re here to help these students cross the finish line and graduate. And I’ve been known to say to the chagrin of some, maybe the chagrin of many, I’m not running an employment agency here. We’re running a college. And the mission of our college is to transform our community, one student at a time, really one graduate at a time. And we believe, as I know you do, in the power of educational transformation, we know that we can make our community stronger by getting more college graduates on the streets of Union County and in New Jersey and across our nation. So that’s how I was led into this student success world. But when I came to Union Joe, we had the lowest graduation rates in the state of New Jersey. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (05:48)

And I said to our board, said to me, what could you possibly do to make this college better? And I said, very respectfully, , but deliberately and directly, the first thing I’d focus on is improving your graduation rates, particularly for students of color. We’re a Hispanic serving organization. 70% of our students are students of color, probably more, but some don’t declare their, their, uh, race. So we know, uh, look, I knew that we were underperforming, and I got our board to understand that. And that’s when we really made a complete shift here at Union. And I’m proud to say over the last 13 years, we have quintupled our graduation rates. I don’t take credit for that, Joe. I’m just the hood ornament on the organization. , our faculty, our staff, and everyone from our custodians and public safety officers to our senior professors and our deans are focused on helping students cross the finish line and get a degree. 


Joe Gottlieb: (06:57)

Well, humility is an important trait, but I can feel the no nonsense approach, uh, Dr. McManon. And so I, I’m curious, some might think this is a stretch. I don’t, how, how would you describe how your original background in physical therapy might have, might have aided your ability to understand what leadership kinetics are all about? 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (07:19)

Well, I’ll tell you very easily. People are comfortable sitting in their chairs, sitting on the sofa, sitting at their desks, sitting behind their computers and not moving. But that is bad for you. Sitting’s the new smoking, Joe, you should stand up right now. People listening to this, if you’re not driving, stand up right now. Because in physical therapy, we believe if it’s physical, it’s therapy. If you don’t move around, you will lose the ability to do it. We say, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. If you rest, you will rush. Well, in leadership, it’s similar. In organizations, it’s similar. If we do not change, we will become fossilized. If we do not evolve other organizations, other colleges and universities will pass us by. If we are unwilling to change, either personally, professionally, or organizationally, we will ultimately fail. So this concept of kinetic leadership that we have to continue to evolve, we have to continue to change, is something that is needed in higher ed. Because in many ways, I mean, certainly the pandemic changed that, and I know we’ll talk about it later, but in many ways, we’re teaching the same ways we taught a hundred years ago. And there’s been tremendous resistance to change in higher education. So my mantra as a kinetic leader is, we’ve gotta move. We’ve gotta change. So making that, uh, uh, analogy and making that, uh, argument with our staff and our faculty was easy for me as a pt. 


Joe Gottlieb: (09:04)

Excellent. So let’s dive into that. Why, why, then, given what’s going on, and covid is a big part of it, but not the only part of it, why is kinetic leadership so necessary today in higher ed? 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (09:15)

Well, partially because we’re not, uh, we are averse to change. Now, nobody likes to be told you’re change averse. Everybody like, oh yeah, I love change, but just don’t change me or my area. Mm-hmm. . So first, historically, we have been less, uh, willing to change. We have not embraced change in the past. Right now, in 2022, approaching 2023, if we don’t change, we will end up closing down. There is so much more competition in higher ed today. Hmm. First competition within our sector, colleges and universities. I’m at a community college in New Jersey, 10 years ago, nobody would recruit outside their counties. Right now, it’s open game. Everybody’s competing for the same students. So higher ed has become much more competitive. Secondly, there is a demographic cliff coming, certainly in the northeast, certainly in the mid-Atlantic states, but in most parts of the US there is a demographic cliff where there will be a significant reduction in the number of college-going, uh, high school graduates. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (10:28)

So we are not only all competing against each other, whereas before we didn’t. We’re competing for a smaller group of students. Third, other people are getting into our space. 10 years ago, nobody would have imagined a Facebook university or a, or a Salesforce trailhead or whatever they call it. But every major tech organization, certainly, and many others are doing their own training, issuing their own certificates. So there are other people coming into the higher ed space, the post-secondary space. So the competition is diversifying. So if we just wanna be that Harvard on the Naah Hagan, that college that never changes, we will become extinct. Period. 


Joe Gottlieb: (11:24)

Well, I think you’re right. Um, about all those forces producing alternatives, um, I think there’s another aspect of this that’s worth mentioning and love to get your thoughts on it. And that is, uh, it, it’s, it’s not just availability of alternatives, but then what the needs are, how the needs for education are evolving. Right? And so we talk a little bit about the digital trades, um, emerging, like physical trades emerged in prior times, but this digital trade, I think that’s what’s driving some of these other players to get into the business of education because they don’t see enough generation of staff that they will need to feed the scale of their businesses. And so maybe you can comment a bit on not only the, the, the digital trade aspect of this, but then just also, um, I know you have some opinions on, on how certificates might lead to a more rapid path to employability, but they may not serve all of the population as intended. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (12:31)

Yes. Well, well, in the past, and I’m saying the distant past, and even some of the recent past, some of my faculty still believe this, people went to college to expand their minds, to learn more, to become more educated, to become smarter. And that’s great for kids who have, uh, wealthy parents and, uh, who maybe have a trust fund or, or something of that nature. But for these days, for our reality, and certainly my reality and the reality of the students here in New Jersey and in Union County, New Jersey, they come to college for an opportunity for a better life, not so that they can recite the prologue to the Canterbury Tales in middle English . While that may be a great trick in a cocktail party, it will not put food on the table. People are coming to college to prepare themselves for a better job, a better career for economic and social mobility. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (13:33)

Now, when I went to school in the 1970s, nobody was talking about economic and social mobility. Certainly I went to college because I wanted that independence. But generally speaking, the faculty weren’t talking about that. They were talking about expanding our minds and exposing us to new thoughts and new concepts. Nothing wrong with that. But the reason why these other players are coming into higher ed, the, the Facebooks and the Googles and the, and the Amazons and the Salesforce groups are because we in higher ed have failed them. We have not provided them with the workers with the skills that they want. We have advisory committees here at Union and at every college in the country. And generally speaking, what’s happened at advisory committee meetings historically is we the academics, tell them the employers, what we are going to teach the students, that’s backwards, Joe. It’s backwards. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (14:36)

What it should be, and what it’s become out of necessity is them telling us what they need in their employees and us manipulating our curriculum so that it provides them with the employees that they want. So after decades of not being responsive enough, or in some cases with these tech companies, it’s not decades. They haven’t been around that, not much that long, but we have not been as responsive as we should be to business, to industry, to employers in terms of producing graduates with the skills they want. So after years of higher ed’s failure, and I’m gonna say it, I indict our entire industry. Now we’re all scrambling to be responsive, because why? Because now they’re in our business. Now they’re in our space now, little Union College of Union County, New Jersey has to compete against Salesforce and Google and Amazon and, and Facebook in terms of all of those training programs. And that’s because we have failed. 


Joe Gottlieb: (15:49)

Well, you mentioned earlier this notion of if we don’t change, we will shut down. I’ve never heard it stated that, uh, that honestly, to be honest. And then I think, you know, I look at the community college system, and I’ve actually grown quite fond of, of referring to community colleges as the, the workhorse of, of higher ed, because they’re in this role serving their local communities, um, rely relying upon the economics that it allows them to exist, which are, you know, influenced of course by the economic health and estate and, and, and, and the governance that dictates, you know, budgets and all that. You mentioned the enrollment cliff. So lots of forces at work here, but I also believe that there’s this greatest opportunity to leverage what community colleges have often done, the place, the station they hold in, in, you know, even the two year degree. 


Joe Gottlieb: (16:42)

And what, what happens within that two year degree. It’s this opportunity to serve a, a more di typically a more diverse set of, uh, students that, that that need to be, have a greater employability. And so I remain hopeful. I suspect you are also hopeful about how you are changing this tide a bit there at Union College. And thinking about the role that you’ll play as, as, as part of this sort of workhorse, um, navigating the kinetic disruption through kinetic transformation with this kinetic leadership we’re talking about. Is that, is it, is it okay for me to be hopeful there? 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (17:17)

Absolutely. Because community co, I mean, I’m indicting all of higher ed, but community colleges are the most agile, the most flexible, the most adaptive of all the organisms in higher ed. It’s just unchallenging. We’ve gotta continue to be that way. We are the most connected to those individuals who need to get work as soon as possible, who need to have that economic mobility. So because of our missions, uh, access, affordability and excellence, which are components of all community college missions, it gets us better connected to the, the people who need us the most. So that, I will tell you that faculty at community colleges are much more willing to embrace this mission of workforce. They understand that while yes, we want to expose students to the classics like cer, but we also have to do it in the context of this person needs to feed their family. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (18:25)

This individual needs to pay their rent, and this educational program needs to lead to a high value degree that will allow them to take care of their families financially. So while in many Princeton, Cornell, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, they’re not gonna have a problem. They can continue to do all the things they’re doing. They don’t have to adapt the way we are. But for the clients we serve, we ha it, what we do has to resonate with their real life, not their, not necessarily their, uh, their, uh, spiritual life or their, just their desire to expand their mind. It has to connect with paying their bills, getting a better job, having some economic and social mobility. And community colleges do that better than any other sector in higher education. We just need to do more of it. We need to do more. We’ve gotta get at the table. We, unfortunately, some of those businesses, maybe Amazon went to a, a large institution and asked them to make changes and they were unable to get it. So that’s why Amazon does training those corporations, those businesses come to the community colleges. We can create training programs. We can pivot, create, and close down education and training programs at a rate much faster than four-year universities with greater bureaucracies, 


Joe Gottlieb: (20:10)

. So speaking of bureaucracies, um, I think this, this, this theme is a very, very interesting one. This theme of kinetic leadership. I’d love for you to share a few examples of how you practice kinetic leadership there at Union College of New Jersey. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (20:27)

Okay. Well, Joe, I’m gonna, and I’m gonna jump ahead to something. We believe that education, that going to college is more than just listening to a lecture. We certainly, uh, embrace active learning. So that’s the first thing. We’ve been talking about active learning in higher ed for decades. I can remember 1991, I went to a conference on active learning. We all talk about active learning, but then when covid comes, we sit there and stare at a screen for, for all day long. It’s not active learning. We believe that students need to do things beyond just listen to somebody lecture. Now everybody talks about let’s get active learning in the classroom. Yes, we want active learning in the classroom, but we also pair that with what’s happening outside of the classroom. Going to college is more than what happens in those four walls, whether they’re virtual walls or real walls in an actual room that we believe active learning and kinetic leadership involves getting things going on outside of the classroom. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (21:38)

I do that. I don’t stay in my office. I believe everybody on campus should be engaged with our students and connected with our students and seeing our students and our see students seeing them. We encourage students to get involved outside the classroom in co-curricular activities. I’ll give you an example. We have a Bloomberg Business Center here that includes Bloomberg Terminals. Now the courses in Bloomberg terminals, that’s an extracurricular activity where students can go in there and get certifications outside of the classroom. I may be a business administration major, taking those regular, I’ll say boring, but maybe not business administration classes. But outside of that class, I’m spending three hours a week in the Bloomberg Center learning how to operate those terminals. And I might say to the envy of every investor in Union County who wants access to those terminals, I’m learning how to use them. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (22:37)

And I’m getting, I’m engaged in active real life learning, experiential learning connected to my major. That’s going to lead to a much better outcome for me in terms of getting a job in the future. And it’s also gonna help me stay in school because I’m gonna say, I hate my, my business administration class. It’s so boring. But I love going to those Bloomberg terminals. I’m gonna stay in school. I’m not gonna drop out because I feel really engaged with that and with the other students in the class. And we, maybe we have, we have an entrepreneurial center. We’re trying to set up like a shark tanklike center there, get students doing something to apply what they’re learning as opposed to just the passive learning activity that used to occur in the classroom and certainly occurred in front of those Hollywood squares and Zoom classes, uh, during the pandemic. So kinetic leadership is about fostering that active learning across the campus and in as many venues as possible. 


Joe Gottlieb: (23:44)

I know know, during covid, you also, um, applied this leadership to the way that you were helping your organization to get their jobs done, so to speak, more effectively via improved remote work so that they could spend more time serving students. Could you talk a bit about how, how you catalyzed that and saw that through? 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (24:09)

Sure. We were, I, I, I have to say, we were very concerned. New Jersey was heavily impacted by the pandemic. It was catastrophic here. Um, and I’m in a very densely populated county. Many of my students are living in apartment buildings and things like that. We were very concerned about the isolation associated with the pandemic, but how do you combat that isolation when we are in lockdown or when we are remote? So we just tried to get as many people, as many of our employees engaged in outreach to students, outreach to students in every way possible. But we also had the regular business of the college that needed to continue papers, still needed to be graded, transcripts still needed to be issued. So how do you balance that? We needed much more intensive outreach, but we had a unlimited num, we didn’t have unlimited resources. Hmm. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (25:03)

So I’ll give you two examples. Um, in the past, we had struggled to, to operationalize the concept of electronic transcripts. And I think part of that was because it was somebody’s jobs to print the transcript, fold the transcripts, stuffed in an envelope, and mail it. And if we digitize that, what would happen to Margaret’s job? You know, what would happen to Margaret? Yeah. My thing is, if we can digitize that, Margaret would be freed up to call students to outreach. Joe, how you doing? I know you were pretty bummed out yesterday. How are you feeling today? More student, more direct student outreach and connecting that student. What kind of issues do you have? Let’s connect you to our, uh, care team and let’s get you some high speed internet, or whatever the problem is, instead of me stuffing envelopes, I was directly helping students. Give you another example, and this is about a product that I was reluctant to buy, but it turned out to help quite a bit. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (26:04)

Something called Pack Back, which was a new technology product we were introduced to. My chief academic officer loved it, because what it does is does some artificial intelligence feedback on student term papers, anything the students write. So you write, you write, if you talk to any English professor or any professor who requires a writing of a paper, reading those papers can be a nightmare, Joe. I mean, it can be because, you know, you wanna provide relevant feedback in the process, but reading 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 papers, it gets to be pretty challenging. And by the 50th one, maybe you’re less generous with your feedback. , I want those faculty talking to you, Joe, I want them to talk to you about your writing, but I also want them to connect with you. How are your classes going? Otherwise, are you making progress to graduation? You’re an accounting major, Joe, and I see you haven’t taken accounting to yet. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (27:03)

That’s an, that’s a milestone course. You should have taken it last semester. What’s holding you back? Those are the kinds of things, one, human being to another. You’re much more likely to register for that class if neither professor talks to you about it. But I was spending all my time telling you that you had a dangling partisan over a year, or that, you know, this paragraph is disconnected from this paragraph or whatever. Now we’re using technology to provide tho and it’s evidently, it’s terrific. I haven’t used it. I’m not teaching. But the faculty love it. The deans love it. The chief academic officer loves it because it gives students quick feedback on their writing and then relieves the professor of that particular, it doesn’t grade them, but it gives, you know, formative feedback and gives the professor then the time to provide more substantive interactions with the students on how they’re doing personally, professionally, and where they’re headed in terms of their classes, their major next semester. Joe, I noticed you haven’t registered next semester if, if I have AI helping me talk to you about how your, your writings needs work in this particular area, I can spend more time talking to you about let’s get you on target to graduation. So those are two examples. 


Joe Gottlieb: (28:27)

Those are great examples. And I just wanna call out a couple things. First of all, because this, this disc discuss, and you nailed it, this discussion about technology automating work and the, and potentially threatening jobs is part of the refrain that has, you know, has been part of that aversion to change. And I think it’s a misunderstood situation, right? And what you’ve just uncovered, um, president McManon is this notion of if I create an atmosphere where, and you gave two examples, one in the faculty part of the organization, which is essential to tap into, and one in the staff at the administrative part of the organization, which is, you know, the other side of the quote, business. If I create an atmosphere where people in both of those parts of the organization are encouraged to join me in the mission of serving students, and then to use their intellect, their instincts to figure out what that is, but I want to give them encouragement to, to join in that mission and by automating certain parts of their job that they would acknowledge are mundane, but they perhaps tolerate because it’s good for job security. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (29:44)



Joe Gottlieb: (29:45)

You’ve, you’ve moved the problem to a, to a, a position of solvability, right? Where it’s no longer a, a dangerous problem to solve. It is an essential and solvable problem. Right? And I think this is, this is just a lesson that I, I find it, it’s so important to crack this code. And these two examples I think are really, really useful and instructive in, in making it, making it more expandable, understandable, more approachable. Um, and, and there are countless opportunities for technology to do this, but we have to examine them in the right light. We Wait, wait. You said, okay, you, you, you had never heard of this thing. Chief academic officer wanted it. You, you wanted to understand how it was gonna impact. You saw that it was maybe gonna relieve them of an annoying behavior, but you also saw how it might enable, you made it a possibility to enable greater engagement. 


Joe Gottlieb: (30:41)

That’s right. Right. So this will bring me then to the last open-ended question I want to ask you. And that is, with, with your approach to kinetic leadership, how do you help your organization to prioritize? I find that the, the single most challenging thing to do in any organization, no matter the industry, is to have the organizational structure do an effective job of owning the hard decisions around prioritizing in the face of finite, precious, limited resources and community colleges are not exempt. You called out their, their traditional, um, agility, which I love, but they’re not exempt from these forces that limit what they, the resources available. So how do you, how do you drive prioritization in your organization? 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (31:31)

Okay, well, we, we establish four clear priorities for union. Okay. And they’re grounded in our mission. I think we always have to start, I always try to start with common ground because there’s a lot we can disagree with mm-hmm. . But let’s start with what we agree with. And we, our four priorities are enrollment, student success, innovation, and social justice. Okay? So those are our four priorities. That’s where we begin and we look through every resource decision through the lens of those priorities. Now, I will tell you innovation is not innovation for innovation’s sake. It’s to remind people. It’s really a prompt to get people to change. Because frankly, I see that as the biggest resistance to our e evolution and our development is that fear of change, Joe. And, and I think that fear of change comes from what you just talked about, that job security. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (32:33)

How’s this gonna impact me? Am I gonna lose my job if we make this change? So putting innovation in there is, is for that very deliberate reason. We’ve got to actively think about it because inertia is a real thing in higher education, inertia is real. People just went, okay, I’m pretty good. I’m pretty happy right here. So the whole, we have enrollment there because no margin, no mission. We can’t do the transformational things that we do if we don’t expose the community to what we’re doing and get them to enroll. But our holy grail in terms of our priorities once we get them in the door, is student success. That’s our business. And we put it out there and we put it out there very confidently. What, what do you wanna do, Joe? You come up with an idea. And at this point, our motto on campus, everything’s on the table. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (33:31)

Everything’s on the table post covid. And we did that because during Covid on one day, I would say, over my dead body, we’re never gonna do it. And the next day I’d announce we’re doing it. So now everything’s on the table. So we look at that, you come up with an idea, anybody comes up with an idea, we examine it through the lens of will this help more of our students be successful in college? Will this lead to more students crossing the finish line? That’s our only measure of student success here. Because some schools measure student success with, well, we had more, uh, minority students past developmental math. That’s not successful in my opinion. Pass and developmental math isn’t gonna put food on your table. It isn’t gonna help you get a job. Getting a college degree will. So we assess priorities through the lens of student success and graduation rates. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (34:32)

We fund programs that lead to higher levels of graduation rates for students who participate in that program versus the general population. I’ll give you an example. We had a theater program, a community theater program here. No students were allowed to participate. Students couldn’t even turn on the lights in the theater program. They weren’t allowed in the theater. Obviously, we got rid of that program did not lead to greater levels of student success. We had another program in college life where they were giving out tickets to the movies. Don’t ask me, it wasn’t my program. I pulled the nu give me the names of every kid who got tickets to the movies. Did they graduate at a higher rate than the general population? No, they did not get rid of that program. But we look at our tutoring center, students who go to the tutoring center dramatically higher rates of success. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (35:30)

We are investing dramatically in the tutoring center. Frankly, and this may not be popular for some people who listen to your podcast, but athletics, our athletes graduate at a rate twice the rate of the general population. And they are at risk students who are graduating, they don’t have the highest GPAs, but they’re graduating at a rate twice the rate of the general population. You can betcha I’m investing in that. But if I go even deeper into that, I may find out that the CrossCountry team never graduates anybody. You know who I’m gonna fire the CrossCountry coach. All right. And that’s, we look at programs. Every program, whether it’s the drum line and the Glee Club, or if it’s the cross-country team and the the Astro Astronomy Club, we look, we allocate resources on the basis of do students who participate in that activity graduated a higher rate. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (36:35)

That’s how we prioritize things. And when we’re questioned, a board member asks me, why are you spending money on that? I’d flip up the, the graduation rates and say, because every kid we get to do that, graduates at a higher rate than students like that student. So that’s how we do it. At Union, we are unashamed of that philosophy in our community. We serve over 70% minority students, over 60% first generation college and low income students. And they need a college degree. Your son may never need to get a college degree to do well. He is got a big safety net at home. We are their safety net. And we know if we can get ’em across the finish line, they and their families will have a better life. So that’s our priority. 


Joe Gottlieb: (37:25)

Well, I think it comes full circle, right? The, the fact that you’re applying that kinetic measure, student graduation rate to everything you can consider investment in. And I love the fact that everything’s on the table, but everything is also on the table for scrutiny according to that metric. Um, and that is a great, that’s a great way to make it happen. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (37:49)

Yeah. We don’t like to fund hobby horses. If you go into any college or university in the country, you’ll find a little program that they’re investing a lot of money in. You say, why you spending money on that? And they say, oh, well, Susie Smith on the board really likes this program. That’s why we’re doing it. We’re not here to serve Susie Smith on the board. If that has no impact on Comme on graduation, we shouldn’t be spending money on it. No Hobby horses. And that’s how we do it. 


Joe Gottlieb: (38:17)

No hobby horses. All right. Well, let’s, let’s bring this to a close President McManon, what are three sort of summary points that you would articulate to really help, uh, uh, give a takeaway on this concept of kinetic leadership for kinetic transformation? 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (38:33)

Well, especially post covid. Now, we’ve mentioned PO Covid a couple times here in the pandemic, but particularly now that we’re emerging from covid, we have to do a better job of in improving increasing student engagement in order to keep them moving and progressing through the system. Covid paralyzed so many of our students, so much of our population, they became static. They’re doing Hollywood squares, zoom classes often without the camera turned on and often while they were working. We need to get students more engaged, or we will see a generation of students who will be lost in terms of higher ed and real engaging educational programs. So that, and, and, and ultimately student success graduation, we have to reject the status quo. Kinetic leadership is about accepting the fact that we must continue to change. We have to evolve. If we don’t evolve, somebody else gonna take over for us. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (39:41)

Somebody else will come into our space and do what our employers and what our students want. And we also have to, kinetic leadership has to focus on measurable outcomes like graduation rates broadly, but subtle indicators, subtle things like average credit load for students. Are students taking a sufficient number of classes, credits full-time students to graduate on time? Or are we counseling and advising them into lower loads that frankly lead to dropping out from school rather than graduation? Kinetic leadership is about embracing and encouraging and fostering and nurturing more engagement, more activity, and more connections with other people and with the college and the campus itself. So that’s what I’d take away. 


Joe Gottlieb: (40:38)

President McMenamin, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s been a pleasure. 


Dr. Margaret McMenamin: (40:43)

I enjoyed it very much and I look forward to, uh, seeing you and hearing from you again in the future, Joe, God bless 


Joe Gottlieb: (40:52)

And to you, and thanks to our guests for joining us as well. I hope you have a great day, and we’ll look forward to hosting you again on the next episode of Transformed.

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About The Host


As president of Higher Digital, Joe supports customers with strategy development, change management, and strategic operations. He is energized by the complex challenges and profound opportunities facing higher education and is motivated to have and share discussions around these topics.

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