Sept. 24-30, 1999
Study of staff morale shows respect is key
Managers build strong relationships with employees
VA 2020 Science and Technology Planning Commission to hold workshops Sept. 23-25

NEH recognizes two U.Va. web sites

Women's Club entertains Virginia 2020 themes
Q&A - Dean Sondra Stallard on a mission
After Hours - Couple spends weekends horsing around
Housekeepers honored at picnic
Hot Links - Intramural-Recreational Sports
Stephen Cushman publishes narrative on Civil War battle
Woodson Institute fellows announced

In Memoriam

Sounds of Indian flute to fill Old Cabell Hall on Oct. 2


Dean Sondra Stallard on a mission
Enhancing programs and raising awareness of Continuing Education

By Ida Lee Wootten

Delivering 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.

Those 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 offerings.

Feeling 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.

Q: What do you feel are your biggest accomplishments so far?

A: 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.

I 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.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges that you¹ve faced?

A: 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 students.

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.

Another 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.

Q: 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.

I 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?

A: 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.

Q: With the many challenges that have faced you, what is your coping strategy?

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.

I like to speak in public, and I try to entertain people. You should see our community meetings -- maybe I should have been in the USO.

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.

Q: What are the rewards of your position?

A: 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.

Q: What's your typical work day?

A: 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.

I've been here 25 years. Give me a job and I do it."
Stephanie Gross

Position: Dean of Continuing Education, appointed in 1996 "When asked my occupation, maybe I should say 'dean and stand-up comedian.'"

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, astronomy, snorkeling.

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.



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