The 30,000-foot View: Leading the Charge

By Andréa Rodriguez, Director, USU and APLU Office of Urban Initiatives

As an intermediary lead within the Frontier Set, I often balance the responsibilities of leading the charge from a 30,000-foot level and supporting sites on a more tactical level. This balancing act is no easy feat. However, my experience as a student affairs practitioner has been valuable to supporting the institutions’ transformative efforts as they think deeply and critically on what it means to support all areas of student success.  

The way I see it, the responsibilities of an intermediary in the Frontier Set go beyond listening and surfacing the institutions’ voices, and making the necessary connections within our segment and across all the institutions and systems within the Frontier Set ecosystem.

Given that institutions often habitually lean on deficit-based approaches to help address students’ needs, specifically minoritized students, my personal and professional lived experiences, have been a guide I reference to best support the institutions with this work. The deficit-based approach is not an appropriate basis for student success strategies, as it signals that being minoritized, first-generation, or low-income are indicators of potential failure. With the challenges in 2020 that continue into the new year, much of my work is about directing and feeding the sites’ practices to other segments and advising them on ways to best support student success through an asset-based lens.   

The institutions in our segment at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) are well-versed in student success efforts, and they understand their surrounding communities. Thus, my role as lead for the segment and the sites is to ensure all participating institutions acknowledge their blind spots and plan to leverage their continuous improvement methods after the sunset of this project. The institutions’ experiences and efforts to date will support their continued efforts to advance their initiatives, and the ways they address and aid students at all stages of their degree-completion process as higher education evolves. 

Artwork by Gabriel D’Elia, Instagram: @g.delia.paint

Lastly, the 30,000-foot view is not only about supporting the folks at the top of the institutional hierarchy, but also about closing the communication gap between high-level leaders and the frontline higher education agents. Closing this gap will help sites develop a more intentional cross-institutional focus on supporting and driving forward their macro- and micro-level goals and outcomes, and work as a unit to advance efforts to address attainment gaps.

Overseeing this effort means being intentional in ensuring high-level leaders understand the nuances of the ongoing barriers that perpetuate equity gaps among historically minoritized and excluded populations. To succeed at this critical post, I require a “surround system” of eyes and ears to ensure I elevate the true lived experiences of the change agents who have been part of the Frontier Set. Although moving from solely site-level support to the segment-level support at the 30,000-foot view has been challenging, being able to communicate vertically and horizontally to internal and external stakeholders of the Frontier Set has helped me support the APLU institutions’ transformation efforts. In doing this, we collectively inform the field on what it means to be a resilient and transformed institution of higher education.

As a first-generation high school and college Latina graduate, Andréa serves as Director of the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU)/Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). In this role, she plays a crucial role in advancing student success, university transformation, and 21st-century workforce efforts across multiple efforts, and leads the Frontier Set initiative.