How I Plan to Improve Higher Education

From the October 1999 AAHE Bulletin

The 1999 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award recipients share their plans, goals, and visions for the future.

K. Patricia Cross, professor of higher education emerita at the University of California-Berkeley, is one of the most respected and admired scholars in higher education. She started the Future Leaders Awards program out of her concern for the future. "Higher education needs to develop new leaders," she said. "The combined impact of the enormous changes ahead for higher education plus the retirement of the great leaders of the past sends a strong signal that higher education needs to give concerted attention to the development of a new cadre of leaders."

"AAHE is in a position to identify emerging leaders, to promote their development, and to utilize their talents," she added. With the award comes support to travel to AAHE’s upcoming National Conference.

The following are statements from five of the seven recipients of the 1999 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award.


Nancy Bragg

One of the greatest challenges in higher education is engaging autonomous students, administrators, and faculty in working within various communities towards shared visions of teaching, learning, and service. I want to challenge and support members of communities in the process of becoming actively engaged in implementing these visions. The notion of community implies a group with shared goals and values, that inform decisions and actions. Communities could exist among those involved in committees, departments, courses, organizations, institutions, or issues. The privilege of being a member or citizen of various communities carries with it the responsibility of being responsive and serving those communities.

I enjoy developing leaders, scholars, and citizens in a community-building culture. The past two years I facilitated the Faculty Fellows Program through Illinois Campus Compact. Six faculty members from different Illinois campuses integrated their teaching, research, and service through community engagement, serving communities extending beyond the walls of their institutions.

I make a difference through various venues for preparing teachers and learners for the teaching-learning process. I coordinate and facilitate opportunities for graduate teaching assistants, faculty, students, and administrators to get together to learn more about teaching and learning. One of my favorite roles is coordinating and facilitating Teaching-Learning Communities (TLCs), which are opportunities for teachers across campus, rank, and discipline to meet regularly in small groups for focused attention on aspects of their teaching. Next fall, in my life after dissertation, I would also like to teach a general-education course required of all first-semester freshmen. I am looking forward to the opportunity to participate with them in a learning community and help them prepare to be successful learners.

No matter what my position, I will continue to develop integrated leaders, scholars, and citizens responsive to needs of communities in the new century.

Nancy Bragg is coordinator of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Illinois State University. She can be reached at

Kim Cattat

Probably the biggest challenge in higher education is how can we send students out into the real world better equipped to handle all of life’s situations that will confront them? How do we teach them not only their coursework but also how to be responsible citizens in a world that seems to encourage the postponement of adulthood? How do we encourage our students to be more aware of the inequalities that exist in the social world, and to become actively involved in diminishing these inequalities?

I will be available to students in and out of the classroom. It’s important to offer to lend a listening ear during office hours or at other times when students are having trouble adjusting to their environments or questioning what they’ve always known.

I will leave class time to discuss material that may not be directly related to the subject matter, but may certainly be related to student concerns about life after college. Oftentimes there are ways to relate whatever subject matter you are teaching to matters your students will deal with in their futures. I will also make every effort to include diversity issues in my classes whenever possible.

I will set a good example to my students by attending student and multicultural activities and being involved in school committees. I will also support my school’s Educational Opportunity Program or other programs that encourage diversity and lend assistance to students who may be struggling to balance their school lives with the pressures of their home lives.

Teaching is more than just an occupation or a task — it is a total dedication to the formation of our young adults. Teachers at every level are as influential on young people as are the youths’ parents. I understand the power, responsibility, and opportunity that come with the role of teaching in higher education and I will dedicate myself to using that role for the greatest benefit to my students. They are, after all, our future.

Kim Cattat is working on her doctorate in sociology at the State University of New York-Buffalo. She can be reached at

Natalie Coe

Too many students are turned away from the physical sciences because of unwarranted and unhealthy stereotypes. Students say that they are simply "not good in math" or that chemistry is "just too hard." They also fail to see the strong connection between biology and chemistry and their immediate, everyday lives. My goal is to reveal this connection to my students and to encourage them to have a more intimate relationship with these subjects.

I was extremely fortunate to have brilliant, dynamic teachers in my formative years who helped me to stay excited about science. It is very important to me to not turn students away from science by inadvertently overwhelming them with concepts they are not yet prepared to master. I think one of the most important aspects of introductory college science courses is building the students’ confidence in their own ability. I want students to leave my course feeling like they can tackle problems, brainstorm and work with others, can trust their own ideas and intuitions, and, of course, have learned some science!

I hope to be part of a dynamic classroom environment that will promote interdisciplinary discussions. I value the interconnectedness of disciplines and would enjoy designing and teaching courses that address the whole student and leave him or her well-rounded and prepared to be a life learner and thinker, not just someone with the right answer.

I want them to question what they read, think about what they hear, and formulate their own opinions based on facts. This is what scientific training means to me. I want to train students to be objective and to look at problems from a multitude of angles. I like asking "What if?" questions that invite students to develop and try to defend a hypothesis. By actively engaging students often, and frequently asking them to assess their learning through in-class discussions, panel debates, or think-pair-share activities, the communication between students and their peers and myself will help to facilitate intellectual and personal growth in our classroom.

I also feel that the college classroom should extend to the greater community. I think institutions should expect students to give back to the community, in the form of either volunteering or internships. It would be wonderful to involve ecology students in a clean water project on a local river as part of their laboratory work. It would be great to have upper-level biology or wildlife management students classify native and non-native species in our own backyards. Students should develop an obligation to take an active role in the education and preservation of their own communities.

Nancy Coe recently received her Ph.D. in biochemistry, molecular biology, and biophysics from the University of Minnesota and plans to do her postdoctoral work at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. She can be reached at

Tony D. Hawkins

The ability of higher education to manage access is the most important theme I see facing colleges and universities. The reversal of race-based admissions practices nationwide and the proposed elimination of basic skills courses at the City University of New York’s senior institutions are just two examples of how students, particularly minority students, will be forced to find alternative paths to postsecondary education.

Perhaps the best way to promote access is for educators to develop partnerships between secondary schools and the nation’s colleges and universities, thus opening the door to the rewards associated with the completion of a college degree. Although students must assume some responsibility for their own academic preparation to do college work, it is imperative that we as leaders make students aware of the benefits of hard work, community service, and scholarship. The challenge is for higher education to assume a proactive role in helping students overcome barriers that influence and impact their academic careers, providing more opportunities, not reducing them.

Revisiting the role community colleges play in providing access has never been more critical. Community colleges must assert their position and provide greater access to programs that will ensure equal opportunities for learning, successful transfer, and economic rewards. Students attend community colleges for a variety of reasons, bringing their own special skills and needs. There is a need to make others aware that community colleges are not dumping grounds for students seriously lacking academic preparedness. In reality, it is quite the opposite. Community colleges are fulfilling dreams, dreams of obtaining a college education.

As a former community college professor and current academic dean, I can cite numerous examples of students who, when supported and encouraged, have faced the challenge of access head on and achieved great success. But unless we can ensure greater access to educational opportunity — through policy development and personal contact — and provide clearly articulated goals and expectations, then we are severely limiting our ability to serve students.

Tony D. Hawkins is assistant dean of academic affairs at Hudson County Community College. He can be reached at

Timothy Pippert

As a very new assistant professor, I find it is already apparent that one of the greatest challenges facing higher education is our ability to convince students that they can and should make a difference in the greater social picture. I see the common culture of today’s traditional students as complacent, as they ride the economic success our country is currently experiencing. News of stock market records and an explosion of high-paying technology-related jobs seem to have contributed to many students, losing sight of the segments of our society who are not riding the waves of success. Instead, students are too often focused on the quickest path from the first year to graduation.

As educators we need to convince students of the value of stopping for a spell and thinking about the importance of being a citizen. We cannot send the message that complacency is acceptable. We need to stress, and model, the idea that we are all global citizens and we can and should have a positive impact on our environment. This philosophy has guided me to Augsburg College, which has a fantastic service-learning program. I intend not only to participate fully but also to stress to other colleges and universities the importance of service-learning in shaping a truly rounded student.

Timothy Pippert is an assistant professor at Augsburg College. He can be reached at

Tammie Nakamura, a postdoc at University of Colorado-Boulder; and Mary Ann Villarreal, a doctoral student at Arizona State University-West, also received the 1999 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award.

Copyright © 2008 - American Association for Higher Education and Accreditation