Amy Foley is the Student Affairs Manager for the Center for Distance Learning, where she works to promote student development and the university community. She is also the latest participant of the Division of Professional Studies’ Pioneer Profiles—a series of Q&A’s with members of the division’s dedicated staff. The following conversation details Amy’s thoughts on the importance of distance education and leadership, as well as the path she took to get to where she is now.
You first joined the Center for Distance Learning in 2003 as a student assistant and have stayed with the department ever since, working up to your current position as the Student Affairs Manager. How has your experience shaped you as an advocate for distance learning?
Seeing the success of all students is what makes me an advocate for distance learning. I have worked with students who have overcome major life changes all while earning a degree. In some situations, we have students coming to us for the second or third attempt at earning a degree (or earning their second or third degree). I admire their persistence and desire to achieve this goal. Many of these students would not have had this opportunity to earn or complete their degree if it were not for distance learning.
Are there any particular interests that have kept you with the CDL over the past 17 years? What do you enjoy most about working for this department?
I would say the constant evolution of education and more specifically distance education is what keeps my interests. A lot has changed in the last 17 years as it relates to distance education. I enjoy working through these changes and challenges with not only the staff within CDL but the entire university community.
I also need to say that without a doubt the current and past staff within the CDL has kept me going these past 17 years as well. I have learned and experienced so much through seeing the growth and development in our teams here. I absolutely need to give credit to our admissions, student services, and advising teams for making me the manager I am today. Witnessing their successes is an amazing experience and I am so grateful for their determination to succeed.
In your opinion, what has been the most significant change that’s occurred within the department during your time here?
We often joke that change is the one constant here, so it is really challenging to pick the most significant change. Last year alone departments added a number of online undergraduate and graduate degrees for Fall 2019, and we kept talking “Fall 2019” as if it were a holiday and planning for these new programs months ahead of time.
Then we welcomed 2020, the year of many challenges and changes for everyone. Academically, departments added new online programs again, which really helps us reposition ourselves in the market and we also launched a new website. However, we also had to work through our own personal and professional challenges associated with Covid-19. We really rallied together to make sure everyone had what they needed to be successful. Despite Covid-19, we accomplished our goals and we are continuing to help our future and current students!
As the Student Affairs Manager, what does a typical day look like for you?
I spend a lot of my days balancing meetings in where we are planning and advocating for students and the university community, along with managing the admissions, student services, and advising teams on student development and individual student situations. I don’t get a lot of one-on-one time with students within my role, however, so when I do get the opportunity, I take advantage of the time to learn more about the student and what their unique situations are.
What is one important lesson you’ve learned or discovered while working for the CDL?
For me it is learning to value the uniqueness of the student as an individual. Each student has their own story to tell, their own passions, and their own drive to earn a degree. This helps us better understand that education is not a one size fits all or even a one size fits most mold. I believe this has helped me greatly when working through processes related to student status policies. We have to learn to be adaptable and flexible to the trends of higher education and more specifically distance education.
How would you describe your leadership style? What, in your opinion, constitutes a good leader?
Many of my strengths are tied to relationship-building and influencing, so naturally I lean more toward a servant leadership style. I bring a lot of empathy, foresight, and listening to the table when it comes to leadership and I find it easy to transition into other styles of leadership when needed. Not everyone or every situation responds to just one leadership style, so at times I may need to shake things up a bit and lead from a different direction.
I have worked for and with many great leaders over the years. For those within a defined leadership position, I believe that making sure staff have what they need to be successful and trust in them is one of the most powerful leadership skills.
What I really enjoy seeing is when those who are not in a defined leadership position transform into leaders. Perhaps it is for a project or a designated point in time, but watching staff move from followers to leaders and shift in-between the two is amazing.
What is one fact people should know about you, and one fact that may surprise them?
I have family and a large extended family that keeps me busy. Together we enjoy going on road trips and just seeing where the road takes us. If we can make it to some place obscure that makes it even better.
Something that may not be known about me is that I’m terrified of heights. When our last road trip took us to South Dakota, we drove the Needles Highway and at one stop I couldn’t even talk myself into getting out of the truck we were up so high. Once on lower ground I was able to appreciate its beauty and wonder through our photographs. As terrifying as it was, I would absolutely do it all over again.