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Provost Attends Think Tank on Academic Success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Aim was to determine aspects of educational leadership that would help young people get a college degree

Provost Laura Niesen de Abruna, second from right, with fellow think tank members at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Laura Niesen de Abruna, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, was one of 17 senior higher education experts from various institutions and associations to participate in a recent mini-think tank at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

De Abruna was invited in her role as incoming vice president of the American Council on Education’s Association of Chief Academic Officers.

The purpose, she says, was to discuss the meaning and attributes of institutional leadership, focused specifically on leadership that fosters student success. Their goals were to help define key institutional capacities that foster postsecondary success; to identify the operational attributes of these key capacities; and to learn if these capacities are scalable and transportable.

“The foundation started with a focus on K-12 and now has turned its attention to post-secondary education,” de Abruna says. “The goal is for young people to get a college degree.

“We talked about what aspects of leadership among provosts and others in academia would lead to more retention and academic completion,” she says, adding that the foundation was particularly interested in the success of low-income, minority and first-generation students. “The participants concluded that effective presidents and provosts are enablers, in that they engage directly to enable the efforts of faculty, student affairs professionals and others to improve student support. They are clear about goals and outcomes, as well as the methods for measuring success.”

She says that going forward, the Gates Foundation will work with 75 institutions that already are doing well and will share the information generated by the foundation’s think-tank sessions through papers, reports and other methods.

“This was a tremendous opportunity for me as a provost to have entrée to a conversation at the Gates Foundation,” de Abruna concludes. “To be asked to attend a convening to talk about these important academic issues was an honor.”