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Running head: Informational interview report

Informational Interview Summary Career Paths in Higher Education


Cyd Blatt-Smith
Penn State University, HI-ED 490, Lesson 9
March 2016

Informational interview report

Informational Interview Summary Career Paths in Higher Education


My interview was conducted on February 27, 2016 on the phone, long distance, with
Elizabeth Valicenti, Ph.D., (retired) Professor of Business, Community College of Beaver
County. This interview was conducted in hopes of gaining information about career paths in
higher education, what skills and experience are needed, and what advice could be given to
graduates who are looking to move forward in a higher education position.
Dr. Valicenti (personal communication, February 27, 2106) has been a faculty member at
CCBC since 1975. Before working at the college, she was a medical lab technician in
Youngstown, Ohio. A friend that she worked with was asked to start a Medical Lab Technician
program at CCBC and she asked Dr. Valicenti (personal communication, February 27, 2016) to
be an instructor for the program. She agreed to the position with the thought that she would only
stay long enough to find something else that she enjoyed doing. Forty years later and she is still
teaching. A few years after she started, she became the program director. There were many
administrative duties as the director and these responsibilities were good preparation for future
administrative positions. Later she received an MBA and CPA and taught in both Allied Health
and Business.
Career Paths in Higher Education
It wasnt until 2003 that Dr. Valicenti (personal communication) was asked to take on an
upper-administrative position at Community College of Beaver County. There was a new
president, a new software system, several people who held key positions retired, and there were
many financial issues. With her MBA and CPA experience, the President of the college asked for
her help. First, a temporary position to get the general ledger piece of the new software up-andrunning, as well as getting the finances of the college back on track. This eventually led to a full

Informational interview report

time position: Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness. Dr. Valicenti (personal


communication, February 27, 2016) was charged with Planning and Assessment and Strategic
Planning.
One of the things she loved about this position was the ability to influence policies that
affect change. The way to do this is to not be afraid to ask questions and then listen. Asking
questions is how you learn. As a leader, you must listen to the people you have charged with
making that change. Contrarily, I found it interesting that she was disappointed in her peers for
their lack of critical thinking. She stated, You must be a critical thinker in higher education
administration. (E. Valicenti, personal communication, February 27, 2016). This administration
had too much of corporate mind-set. So, I asked her if she thought critical thinking could be
learned. She said absolutely it could be learned, however, in her opinion, graduate and doctoral
programs needed to spend more time teaching it. She added that a part of critical thinking was a
concept called systems thinking. This is the notion that every action has a corresponding
reaction. Everything you do is going to have an impact on at least three other systems. It is
important to critically think a decision all the way through before you implement it.
Dr. Valicenti (personal communication, February 27, 2016) believes in order to be
successful in higher education administration, you have to be a life-long learner. You have to be
driven by curiosity. (E. Valicenti, personal communication, February 27, 2016). All
administrators should be trained in research. Research skills are imperative. You have to know
where to go to find answers. There are organizations that can be helpful in finding answers, but
sometimes these organizations have their own agenda, so you have to be careful.
In her opinion, in order to achieve a position in higher education if you are starting from
the ground up, you have to become a sponge, learning everything you can possibly learn about

Informational interview report

the position you are interested in. Learn what other people, who are doing the job, know.
Networking is important. Take advantage of professional development and go to conferences.
Most importantly, find a mentor.
If she were on a hiring committee for an administrative position in higher education she
would be looking for a candidate who had a high curiosity level and drive to find answers to
problems. She would ask their approach to problem solving. She would test their interest in
learning and ambition. They should be flexible and adapt easily to change. And, of course, they
must demonstrate excellent critical thinking skills. Education is important and so is experience.
However, sometimes, experience is not that important. Sometimes the best person for the job is
someone who is willing to dig-in and get the job done. There isnt always a recipe for
everything you do. (E. Valicenti, personal communication, February 27, 2016)
Her advice for anyone interested in an administrative position in higher education is be
willing to start at the bottom, network with people in the field, acquire an internship, be
passionate about learning, take advantage of professional development, volunteer for
committees, and dont limit yourself.
Conclusion
The information provided in this interview will be very valuable in assisting my
classmates and myself to develop a more informed understanding of what is needed to pursue a
career in higher education. Dr. Elizabeth Valicenti (personal communication, February 27, 2016)
has been my mentor for the past 10 years and has been a constant source of encouragement. She
is one of the many reasons I am attempting graduate school.