Leaders & Innovators: Christina Trombley, director, Adult Degree Program, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Each time Christina Trombley returned to college to further her education, new career opportunities opened up.
She began her career working in television and radio after receiving a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Then, after earning a master’s in business administration from UW-La Crosse, she landed at UW-Green Bay’s Small Business Development Center, where she helped create and provide noncredit education for business owners, managers and entrepreneurs.
And then, after beginning a doctoral program in urban education with a focus on adult learning and continuing education, she was hired to direct that institution’s Adult Degree Program. Had she not been in the program, she doubts she would have been seen as a strong candidate, despite all of her experience.
Those experiences make her a passionate advocate of continuing education. And as a doctoral student, she knows the myriad challenges students in her program face, and how to best help them succeed.
“Becoming a student again at this point in my life, I understand what it’s like for students to have the responsibility of school while also leading very busy and active lives. Not only do they usually work, but they also have family responsibilities,” she said. “I understand when our students say things like ‘Work just called me out of town and I have these assignments due but no Wi-Fi connection.’”
Understanding that such situations come up, Trombley makes sure instructors in her program understand adult learners’ need for flexibility, and that it’s possible to offer them that flexibility without giving up any academic rigor or accountability. At the same time, she also makes sure advisors help students understand that once they enroll, they need to give their education priority status, because “it can be easy for students to lose focus with everything else going on in their lives,” she said.
And when students in her program get discouraged, Trombley knows just how to get them back on track.
“I can help students see the impact that education can have on their lives, because I’ve lived that throughout my own career,” she said.
But Trombley, who has been in her current position for about two years now, is more than just a good cheerleader. She has applied her business acumen to the program, allowing it to run independently of state funds. She has also ramped up marketing efforts. Plus, as the higher education landscape changes, she has ensured her program remains relevant.
For example, the program was originally designed as a hybrid model that allowed students to attend classes on the weekends. But that was almost 30 years ago. As online programs became more popular, enrollments waned. Now, the program also offers two degrees completely online. And one of them targets students who graduate from two-year schools with associate of applied science degrees.
“It has required working with everyone to ensure rigor and accountability, while staying true to our mission, and at the same time applying sound business principles to what we do,” she said. “As all of higher education continues to fight for scarce resources and competition increases, we need to be doing that.”
Trombley recently unveiled a dashboard to help her department and campus leaders easily see enrollment trends and pain points so they can make better program decisions.
But Trombley is slow to take credit for herself, noting that all of those accomplishments have taken a team approach. In fact, one of her main leadership strategies involves empowering others to take ownership of projects.
When interdisciplinary teams identify problems and propose data-driven decisions, Trombley simply steps out of the way and lets them implement those decisions.
“They have to let me know if something costs money, but for the most part, whatever they decide I simply support, because they’ve done the heavy lifting and I want them to feel ownership for our program,” she said. “People are much happier in their positions when you give them that sort of responsibility.”
Prepare for the opportunities you want
Trombley, who has been in higher education for more than 17 years, is a big believer in taking on new projects as a way of gaining new skills and knowledge. She also thinks that sometimes it can really pay off to take a flying leap and try something new, even if you’re not sure how well it’s going to work. But what she credits most for her career success is education. Each time she wanted to take a major jump in her career, she went back to college to get the credentials needed to be viewed as a strong candidate.
That’s why the advice she gives students in her program is the same advice she gives staff members looking to advance in their own careers.
“Someone once said something that really stuck with me, that good luck is simply opportunity meeting preparation,” she said. “That’s absolutely true. If you want an opportunity, you have to prepare for it.”
For more information, you may contact Christina Trombley at email@example.com.