After serving 17 years as Dean of the College of Continuing and Professional Studies (CCAPS), Mary Nichols is stepping down and retiring from a long and satisfying career at the University. Starting in June 2018, CCAPS Senior Associate Dean Bob Stine will take the reins, transitioning to Interim Dean of the College. We sat down with Mary and Bob to chat a bit about the past and present through the eyes of the College’s leadership. We also spoke about the upcoming leadership transition and beyond.
First off, can you both share a little of your history with CCAPS and what attracted you to this college?
Nichols: Well, I started as Dean of CCAPS in 2001. Prior to that I had been a faculty member and Associate Dean at the Carlson School of Management. I was familiar with CCAPS because it offered a number of courses through Carlson, and I also helped out in the late 1990s when the College was strategically repositioning itself. By the time 2000 came around and CCAPS was looking for a new dean, I applied and was delighted to get the job in 2001.
The thing I love about the College has always been its mission to serve learners at all stages of life. I also love the fact that it is truly unique in the students it serves, traditional and nontraditional, from all backgrounds. I continue to be impressed by the external-facing nature of the College, too. Through conferences and professional coursework, outreach, and market responsiveness, the College is really inclusive and public in a special way.
Stine: I started at CCAPS as Associate Dean in 2007. I had been working for the U of M for quite a while, with stints at the Cloquet Forestry Center and as Associate Dean in CFANS. When I saw that CCAPS was hiring an associate dean, I was interested in taking it on because of the College’s unique educational mission and for the opportunity to work side by side with Mary. I’d taken a class from her in the Carlson School years earlier, so I called her up and asked about the associate dean role. When I got the job, I had a lot to learn about all that CCAPS encompassed, and that turned out to be a good thing because it forced me to ask a lot of questions and get familiar with the answers. Now when others ask about the College, I’m eager to talk about the great things we’re doing, all the important work that is happening here.
When you both reflect on the years you’ve worked together at the College, what big changes are you most proud to point out?
Nichols: There have been so many changes over the years. I remember when we had something called correspondence courses for distance learners, where students would complete courses through the mail. We of course transitioned to online learning, and that has grown year after year for us. CCAPS is very responsive to the world around it, reflecting what our students need. That responsiveness shows in the programs we’ve added and the curricula we teach, as well as the support services we provide.
Stine: The College really is agile, and it has the infrastructure in place to be able to take on new programs easily. Over the years, we’ve adopted U of M programs that had no other home at the University, and we’ve added programs of our own that serve the needs of the students and the needs of the local and state economy. When I started, there were four undergraduate majors and one graduate program. Now there are six undergraduate majors and soon to be six master’s degrees. Also, the College in the Schools program has doubled since I began and now serves about 10,000 students each year.
Nichols: And all these years, our mission has remained the same, and it will continue to remain the same. We serve the community and the state of Minnesota, and we play a role in serving the rest of the University, too. Lifelong learning is recognized for the vital role it plays in our work lives as well as our personal lives. CCAPS is in a really great place now. We’re doing well and experiencing growth. Our program portfolio is expanding and we have the internal infrastructure to support such expansions. It’s exciting to see the College continue to respond to the needs of students and the community at large, while being seen as an innovator and a leader within the University.
Can you speak to the upcoming transition from Dean Mary Nichols to Interim Dean Bob Stine?
Stine: Certainly. I see my preparation for the role of Interim Dean dividing up into three parts. The first part includes weekly meetings with Mary, to go through a long list of topics to ensure a smooth transition for things the Dean is responsible for both inside and outside CCAPS. The second part is meeting individually with everyone on the College Leadership Team, along with OLLI and Radio K, to get better insight and advice. And finally, I’m working to ensure my former responsibilities are covered and we keep everything moving forward. I’m someone who believes that if you stand still, you’re falling behind. I plan to keep CCAPS moving forward and continuing to do what it does best: be responsive to the needs of learners.
Nichols: I’m very confident in the leadership that’s in place at the College at present. Every one of these leaders knows that they’re part of the same team and will take on any challenge that CCAPS faces together. The goal is for students and learners not to feel any abrupt changes or disruption in the education and experiences they know and value at CCAPS.
Care to comment on any big changes or upcoming events? What’s next?
Nichols: I always look forward to commencement, because it’s all about the students, right? Also, there’s the strategic facilities plan guided by a refreshed vision for the Saint Paul campus. It includes more than just CCAPS, but we are here and we’re part of it. I would also point out the boot camps we’ve added on through CCAPS’ professional development program. Our first cohort will be graduating from the Coding Boot Camp this spring (in May), which is exciting. There’s always something new. I’ve loved that about CCAPS. I also look forward to returning to CCAPS and sitting in the audience to learn! It will be great to have time to do that.
Stine: I would add that there are some advancements underway that we’re continuing to push forward. We’re working on creating a new graduate-level program, a Master of Professional Studies in Civic Engagement, and we’re also creating a new track within the Health Services Management program for Long-Term Care. I also look forward to learning more about and supporting our Professional Development and LearningLife offerings. There’s so much momentum already at CCAPS, and I want to keep that momentum going.