Michelle Koppitz joined Antioch University in May 2019 in the newly created position of Associate Vice Chancellor of Strategic Initiatives and Extension Sites. As Chancellor Groves states, “Strategic partnerships and expansion sites is one of the University’s top growth opportunities. Both have been an important and growing trend in higher education, employed by colleges and universities across the country as a way to extend their mission, increase impact, expand enrollments, and build capacity. The University’s future is not bound by our current footprint, nor our current portfolio of programs.This effort at building strategic partnerships and expansion sites as an extremely significant direction for Antioch University, and I’m very excited to have Michelle as part of our team to lead the way.”
We sat down for an interview with Michelle to introduce her to Antioch University faculty and staff as she shares her perspectives on opportunities and challenges ahead.
Q: Can you please describe your job here, since it is a new position in the University? What will you be doing?
The role of Associate Vice Chancellor of Strategic Initiatives and Extension Sites, in its most basic form, is really about being able to identify internal and external strategic partnership opportunities that can benefit our various programs, campuses, and the university as a whole.
Briefly, internal partnerships focus on processes and/or programmatic collaborative opportunities that are mutually beneficial to all involved and expand outreach possibilities.
External partnerships come in many forms but typically fall into three categories:
- Community-based partnerships such as with municipalities, local organizations, and school districts;
- Regional partnership, such as with hospitals, state government, community colleges, and regional organizations; and
- National companies, organizations, and associations.
My role also entails helping to identify and assess the viability of potential geographic site expansion. This too can be approached in a myriad of ways including partnering with other institutions, employers or even municipalities to provide high-need programming.
Finally, my role is also focused on developing cross-departmental/ institution-wide infrastructure and support systems that can help ensure that our partnerships – internal and external – can be sustained and thrive. This, of course, requires significant transparency, collaboration and ownership at every level into a cohesive institutional vision.
Q: What do you see as the biggest opportunities in this regard? And challenges for Antioch?
I believe there are several very unique things that differentiate Antioch University. Something that struck me initially, and has even inspired me, is Antioch’s position as a thought leader on subjects so critical to our societal sustainability. Every newsfeed I read includes stories on the lack of diversity, mental health awareness, addiction crises, climate change concerns… and, of course, the inequities surrounding social, economic and environmental justice. Antioch has the ability to contribute our expertise by collaborating as partners to educate individuals and build cultures of respect and inclusion. Companies such as Patagonia, Salesforce, REI, 3M, Zappos, Cisco, Tom’s and many more are committed to social responsibility and looking to evolve their human resources to live and work accordingly. I think we can creatively partner with these sorts of companies and organizations in mutually empowering ways.
Which leads me to the next differentiator. I am impressed by Antioch’s long history of dedication to adult learners. Long before the traditional not-for-profit universities were even considering this, Antioch recognized and became the provider of accessible higher education to working adults across the country. I believe we can continue to lead in this area.
In terms of challenges, I believe we need to increase the recognition of our position through partnerships that endorse our expertise and align with our mission. In order to do that successfully, we also need to commit to highly collaborative programs, processes, and infrastructure that enable us to meet our students – current and future – where they are with what they need.
Q: What are the first priorities on your list?
My absolute first priority is to understand each of the campuses and university programs and how they differentiate themselves within their regions and among their peer competitors. Specifically in terms of our locations, how are they special within our own family of campuses but more importantly what makes them stand out among their peer schools in their regions? Beyond even that, what impact is more important to them than anything else? How are we trying to improve the world and do we have all the pieces we need in place to achieve it? If not, what’s missing?
My next priority is to understand the comprehensive and historical institutional mission and how that mission can be aligned with current needs and mission “like” organizations to achieve our expanded and much needed outreach and growth requirements. I am taken with the framing of preparing students for ‘jobs and justice.’
My next priority is to understand how all of these unique characteristics and contributions positively impact the whole and therefore, the institution’s national profile so that as we begin to educate potential partner organizations on who Antioch is and what we can offer. We can also provide a very clear picture of the long-term sustainability impact they too can have by working with us to educate their constituents/employees/stakeholders and improve their organizational ethics and culture.
Q; Could you share aspects of your own professional background that you feel most prepares you for this important work at Antioch?
I have spent over 20 years working with and developing strategies to create accessible education for adult students. My previous role at included oversight of five divisions including academic program development services, market research and strategic marketing, enrollment management, strategic initiatives, and adjunct faculty recruitment. I worked in unison with the provosts, deans and faculty on programmatic development and expansion strategies as well as alignment with branding, enrollment, and revenue initiatives. Additionally, in my role on the Leadership Cabinet, I served as a university liaison between all key departments to develop and execute cross-departmental infrastructure and standard operating procedures that allowed the internal pathways for us to achieve the institutional vision.
My work and expertise with strategic partnerships was developed as a result of understanding that 35 year-olds do not respond to traditional outreach models. In fact, adult learners are aware of but far less motivated by, perhaps even cynical of, the typical onslaught of paid advertising that comes at them. Instead they respond much more effectively to “who and what they know,” sharing information and even endorsing institutions. Furthermore, many adult students are place-bound as much by their employment (travel, shift hours, etc) as by their personal responsibilities and therefore require that higher education institutions meet them where they are, even collaborating with their key influencers to literally bring the classroom to them.
Given that the adult student population has the highest trajectory for growth at this time, this lends to the significant expansion in low-residency and online delivery modalities. I bring to the table the ability to not only identify viable partnership opportunities in this arena but also a unique appreciation given my previous responsibilities to understand the structural collaboration and alignment that must take place between these academic and non-academic organizations to create this important accessibility for students within an environment that is still uniquely Antiochian.
Q: What draws you to Antioch, after all, you have many years in higher education. What did you find so compelling about Antioch that you were willing to make such a big professional change?
Life brings me here. LOL! I am coming up on 50 and have two young adult sons and I was thinking about that all the time. My sons are about to embark upon life at a time when the world seems so divisive and sometimes so bitter and uncompassionate. I found myself asking, “What am I doing about this?” What am I doing every day to impact change in areas that I, we as a family, believe are important… that I have told my kids, their whole life matters. I have always believed in education as a means of change. I was an adult student myself and it literally changed my life trajectory.
At Antioch, I believe that I can be the conduit to impact greater change in areas that are critical to our societal sustainability (diversity, mental health, environmental sustainability and so forth). By creating broad impact through partnerships we are able to not only positively impact these students’ lives but also potentially positively impact these organizational cultures and therefore our society as a whole. It’s the simple equation of distributing good and educating in volume. By coming to Antioch, I hope I can make the second half of my career matter even more than the first.
Q: If we were doing this interview in five years, what would you hope to have accomplished looking back?
It is my hope that the name Antioch University resonates with every organization committed to socially responsibility, mental health awareness, sustainability, and economic and social justice as their go-to provider for all education needs, as well as leadership development training related to these critical areas. My hope is that we would have expanded the thinking of thousands students on these matters and that they would be taking positive action to better the world, starting with their own neighborhoods and workplaces.
For over 20 years, Michelle has worked in nontraditional and executive higher education. Since 2013, she has served Benedictine University as the Vice President for the School of Graduate, Adult and Professional Education. In this position, she oversaw the non-traditional operations, program development and enrollment strategies for the school’s Southwest, Central and Northern Regions as well as online offerings in 43 states.Their comprehensive strategic partnership initiative yielded 12 new organizational partners annually. From 1993-2013, Michelle was employed by the Institute for Professional Development (IPD) as Associate Vice President of Higher Education Services. Through IPD, she also served Benedictine University from 1999-2011 as Partnership Director, Director of Corporate Relations, and Enrollment manager. During this period, she managed and maintained operational strategies for 4 learning centers, as well as 38 corporate and educational partnerships throughout the region. Michelle has earned a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Olivet University and a Bachelor’s degree in Management from Cardinal Stritch University.