It seems that the old adage rings true — all good things must come to an end.
In this case, what’s ending is a seven-year partnership between Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE) and the Aspen Institute’s Rising Presidents Fellowship, which closed out this summer after the eighth cohort of future community college presidents departed campus on July 27.
Launched in 2016, the year-long fellowship brings community college leaders to Stanford’s campus for four days in the summer for sessions that equip fellows with the data analysis, community building, and leadership skills to become changemakers seated at the helm of America’s two-year post-secondary institutions.
“This partnership began as a way to create a transformative program for prospective community college presidents, addressing the need for confident and capable leaders who can produce measurable student success,” said Anne E. Palmer, executive director of the Stanford Educational Leadership Initiative. “Now that the fellowship’s curriculum has been created, iterated, and reformed, the program may continue to thrive without Stanford.”
Josh Wyner, founder and executive director of the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute, said the partnership with Stanford had been particularly appealing because of the deep, pertinent experience of the faculty – particularly GSE Professor Eric Bettinger and Adjunct Professor Thomas Ehrlich, as well as Graduate School of Business Professor Baba Shiv, who played integral roles in teaching content related to leadership and data analysis.
“They both have a wealth of expertise that’s relevant to the program,” Wyner said. “Tom himself was a president in the four-year college space and brought in a lot of knowledge about teaching and learning, while Eric brought in the higher education research piece — he’s truly a national leader in the use of data to advance educational outcomes.”
Russell Lowery-Hart, who was a fellow in the Rising Presidents Fellowship’s first cohort, and returned this year as a mentor, said that participating in the program was pivotal to his career success.
“When I started here, my presidency was at risk, and now I’m coming in as a mentor whose college just won the Aspen prize,” he said. “Coming here to Stanford I’m reminded of where I came from — including all of the learning, pain, fear, and uncertainty — and how I was able to act on the things that I learned here.”
Lowery-Hart is the first Rising Presidents Fellow to win the Aspen Prize for Community College Excel, an annual award given to U.S. community colleges. Over the last seven years the program has graduated more than 300 fellows, some of whom now lead 9% of community colleges in the United States, according to Palmer.
“In that first cohort we met at Stanford twice and I left with knowledge and understanding that showed me where I was failing in my presidency,” said Lowery-Hart who was also recently announced as the new chancellor of the Austin Community College District after serving as president of Amarillo College for nearly a decade.
“The work that Russell’s done to change the culture of Amarillo College is amazing,” said Maria Harper-Marinick, a senior fellow at the Aspen Institute and Lowery-Hart’s former mentor in the program. “Building a culture of caring within an educational setting is not something everyone gets to accomplish but he stayed focused on that.”
In one of the program’s final on-campus sessions last month, Bettinger encouraged fellows to lead by tapping into both data and people resources as they go on to lead at educational institutions.
“As the president of a school, you have the opportunity to see things from a panoramic view, but you’ve got to rely on others to help inform your decisions,” he said. “That requires that you be curious, inquisitive, and thoughtful.”
While the formal partnership between the GSE and Aspen has ended, Wyner and Palmer said that the relationships will continue into the future.
“This has been a meaningful partnership for Stanford, and we’re so grateful to have supported these education leaders in their journey,” Palmer said.
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