Sondra Stallard on a mission
Enhancing programs and raising awareness of Continuing Education
Ida Lee Wootten
education to non-traditional students is an important function
of U.Va. Adult professional education is a growing field, fueled
by advances in technology and complexities of modern life that
make it imperative for adults to engage in life-long learning.
are some of the findings of a task force report presented to the
Board of Visitors in 1997 after a 22-member, University-wide group
spent more than a year investigating U.Va.'s role in continuing
education. The report also called for U.Va. to seek ways to generate
additional income by expanding its range of continuing education
as if she needed to be a barnstormer to launch Continuing
Education to new heights, Sondra Stallard took over as dean
three years ago. Although she's encountered some turbulence, Stallard
is helping Continuing Education soar, as a recent interview revealed.
What do you feel are your biggest accomplishments so far?
First of all, I believe we are now thinking strategically about
what it is that we want to accomplish and how we can best meet
the University's outreach goals. We have revisited the way we
do business; we're operating with greater efficiency and effectiveness.
There is an expanded portfolio of educational offerings, and our
degree, certificate and professional-development programs better
suit the needs of adult learners. We have worked very hard to
ensure that all of our educational offerings are of the caliber
one expects from the University of Virginia.
I think we also are well on the way to achieving another goal:
raising awareness within the University community about what we
do and how Continuing Education contributes to the University's
reputation. By serving the commonwealth and about 25,000 students
annually through our eight regional centers, Continuing Education
faculty and staff serve as the University's ambassadors. Our extensive
relationships with government agencies, such as the FBI and the
Navy, and with dozens of businesses extend the University's influence
to other states and countries. I am very proud of the staff and
faculty of Continuing Education for representing the University
so well. Yet many colleagues on-Grounds are not aware of their
contributions or of the extraordinary array of educational programs
we offer in Virginia, other states and overseas.
am on a mission to raise awareness of Continuing Education's contributions
to the University. I plan to walk down the Lawn near the end of
my term as dean [in 2001], stop 10 people, and expect seven or
eight of them to tell me something they've heard about, read about
or learned about Continuing Education. When I began my term, I
would have been 0-for-10. Right now, I'd probably have four or
five out of 10 who have some knowledge of what we do. One reason
some folks have heard of Continuing Education is the press we
received last year for the new Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies
degree program. I think it's one of the most important things
we have done here to open the doors of Mr. Jefferson's University
since women were admitted in the 1970s. We now are welcoming part-time
learners to the undergraduate program and making courses available
to them during evening and weekend hours. Adult students who have
not been able to study here because of work and family responsibilities
are able now to attend one of the nation's top public institutions.
I think Mr. Jefferson -- a life-long learner himself -- would
be pleased that his university has taken this step.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you¹ve faced?
The most difficult challenge is that Continuing Education is expected
to operate like a business, generating enough revenue to cover
our expenses and hopefully make a little profit as well. However,
we often are unable to make good business decisions because we
operate in an environment that is subject to both academic and
political constraints. Add to this the public service dimension
of our work, and it becomes increasingly difficult to operate
on a strict business model. Unlike a business, we do not have
funds for marketing, or research and development money to develop
new educational programs. This makes it very difficult to meet
marketplace demands and to compete with other institutions for
Every day is a balancing act, deciding where to spend each dollar
to ensure the greatest return and, at the same time, trying to
respond to the educational needs of students in regions where
a positive financial return is unlikely.
challenge is how to create a sense of community among faculty
and staff who are scattered throughout the state at eight regional
centers. We have people who've never met one another -- in some
cases, never been to the Grounds -- so managing such a far-flung
organization is extremely difficult.
How would you describe your management style?
A: It would probably be "management by crisis" because
in Continuing Education that is the nature of the beast. In this
kind of business everything is "real time." We don't
have the luxury of sitting around, planning what to do. Because
of that, I worry about things falling through the cracks.
care very deeply about this place, and I worry about our employees
a lot. I value their work tremendously. When I first began as
dean, I met with everybody -- the first group was the custodial
staff. I value the advice and guidance and opinions of everyone
in the organization. I try to keep up with their personal lives
as well as their employment, and I try to do little things, like
sending employees handwritten notes on their birthdays.
Q: A task force recommendation was to make Continuing Education
self-supporting. What is the revenue picture?
For two consecutive years, we've exceeded our revenue targets
-- last year by about $200,000 and this year by half a million.
Enrollments have increased dramatically. In the year just ended,
we processed more than 25,000 registrations, a growth of about
37 percent. The professional development certificate programs
[where adults earn a certificate after completing a requisite
number of courses] probably are our fastest-growing educational
offerings. In today's economy, many people do not feel compelled
to obtain advanced degrees, but they do seek professional development
opportunities. A few years ago, we offered three certificate programs
in Northern Virginia; this year through our regional centers we'll
offer 17 certificate programs, with technology, business and education
courses generating the most interest.
By increasing revenues and by operating more efficiently, we have
reduced the amount of subsidy that we receive from the University.
In the most recent fiscal year, Continuing Education needed approximately
$400,000 less to operate than it required two years ago. I think
we are on the right track.
With the many challenges that have faced you, what is your coping
A: I'm a stand-up comedian. I've been the class clown all my life.
If given a chance for reincarnation, I'd try to make it in comedy.
Humor comes to me naturally -- my father is a very funny person.
There's humor to be found in every situation. If there wasn't,
I believe I would go crazy. My sense of humor has kept me alive.
like to speak in public, and I try to entertain people. You should
see our community meetings -- maybe I should have been in the
Q: What¹s your vision for Continuing Education?
A: My vision is that Continuing Education will once again become
a school of the University of Virginia with degree-granting status.
At one time, there was a School of Continuing Education, but in
1978 the status was changed. However, in the very near future
our students will walk down the Lawn to receive their Bachelor
of Interdisciplinary Studies degrees, and they have to graduate
from a school of the University. It is time to revisit this matter.
What are the rewards of your position?
The greatest rewards are those special times when adult students
tell me that because of our educational programs, they were able
to finish their degrees, get better jobs and inspire their children.
I love the morning of graduation day because we host a breakfast
for people who've earned degrees through Continuing Education,
and we invite their families. The graduates bring spouses, parents
and children, many of whom have made sacrifices so that the graduates
can go to school. Last year there were 159 people who earned master's
degrees off-Grounds. It is wonderful to meet the families, and
it is deeply satisfying to know that we have made this moment
possible in people's lives.
What's your typical work day?
There is no typical day. I view myself as a "duct-tape specialist."
I like to fix things that are broken or in need of repair. I like
to identify and analyze a situation and figure out a way to fix
it. I like to look at the big picture.
My day begins with having special time with my son. And then I
face the dreaded e-mail.
been here 25 years. Give me a job and I do it."
Dean of Continuing Education, appointed in 1996 "When
asked my occupation, maybe I should say 'dean and stand-up
Previous U.Va. positions: Acting Dean, Continuing
Education, 1995; Executive Assistant to President Casteen,
1993; Director of Corporate Relations, Darden School, 1988;
Director of Development, Engineering School, 1986; Director
of Equal Opportunity Programs, 1980; Assistant professor,
Curry School, 1975. Childhood: Born in Norton, Va.; raised
in West Virginia.
Education: West Virginia Institute of Technology,
B.S. in history and government, 1970; Morehead State University,
master's in European history, 1972; University of Virginia,
Ph.D. in education, 1979 Family: Son, Evan, 16
Interests: International travel, good science fiction,
Recent books: A science fiction book, The Sparrow
and its sequel, Children of God by Mary Doria Russell. Jacob's
Ladder by Donald McCaig, a novel set in Virginia during
the Civil War.