Cultivating Talent

Category: Search Process

Guest Blogger: J. Andrew Shepardson, Ph.D., Vice President for Student Affairs, Dean of Students, Bentley University

“How long have you been at Bentley?” is a question I often receive.

I love to watch the expression when I say “25 years.”

Some have a look of pity—sorry you could not get another job. Some respond with a bit of envy at my long career in one place. Others just look confused and think they misheard me.

I get a similar reaction when I talk about some of my amazing staff who have moved from entry-level positions to director-level positions. Currently, a third of my leadership team got their start at Bentley in entry-level positions. Some have risen through the department to eventually lead it. But that is not always the case. One started out as a residence director and is now our Title IX coordinator and director of conduct and engagement. Too often we think professional development and growth require jumping to another institution rather than moving through the ranks internally.

While skills and education are certainly central to any hiring decision I make, fit is the most significant factor. Perhaps it is because Bentley does not have a typical student affairs culture. As a single-cell business university, we educate a student body that, from an academic perspective, is more homogeneous than most. Our terrific students are type A personalities, driven to results. And they know where they are going. Our culture fits them. We tailor our programs for the business mindset. We operate with a business mindset. And for the most part we also lean closer to type A than most of our colleagues.

It is not for everyone. But when the fit is right, it works. Two success stories outside of higher education were recent Bentley commencement speakers Karen Kaplan and David Long, the CEOs of Hill Holliday and Liberty Mutual. With over 30 years at their respective companies, they have moved from entry level to the corner office.

Kaplan says she never missed an opportunity to raise her hand. I love that. When you have a new professional who is willing to do their job and take on additional challenges, embrace their enthusiasm. It is a rare find, and you want to keep someone like that. Don’t mistake this for abusing their work-life balance. It is not. If you are a good employer, your interest is in your employees’ long-term development, not pushing them until they burn out. When I was hired, the dean of students said to me, “You need a new major challenge every year.” She made it a priority to help me find that challenge.

What did raising her hand do for Kaplan? It led her from being the CEO’s receptionist to being the CEO—but only because she found a culture that embraced her and the notion of cultivating employees.

Long tells the story of starting at a little-known company called Liberty Mutual, figuring two years would give him the experience he needed to move on. He didn’t start out thinking he would become the CEO. In fact, he shared that there really can be no master plan because “life is unexpected, and often counter-intuitive.” I had the same two-year goal as David. And I have a similar mindset for my staff. During an interview for a residence director, for example, I don’t plan out when and how they will be a director in the division. But I do pay attention to their potential, and I tell them that it is my goal for them to have an experience that leads them to their next great job—at Bentley or beyond (and, yes, I do interviews for entry-level positions). I expect that their supervisors will provide them with opportunities for growth and development and to look out for their well-being, both personally and professionally.

In part, this means ensuring that your department or organization does not become insular. I insist on professional development—including for me. We must get out, learn about best practices, talk to colleagues. And we must bring in fresh thinking. I have lunch once a month with the new professionals in the division, partly because I love their energy and enthusiasm, but also because I learn from the experiences they bring from their previous jobs.

As vice president for student affairs, I hold tight to the ideal that students come first. To me, the best way to put students first is to recruit, develop, and retain the most talented team of professionals I can find.

J. Andrew Shepardson, Ph.D.
Vice President for Student Affairs, Dean of Students
Bentley University
Twitter: @deanshepardson

Andrew Shepardson oversees the social, recreational, cultural, health, and behavioral growth offered to students through educational programming and activities at Bentley University. He is responsible for varsity and recreational athletics, the Center for International Students and Scholars, the Center for Health, Wellness and Counseling, the Dean of Student Affairs Office, student conduct and engagement, Title IX, the multicultural center, new student orientation, the residential center, student programs and engagement, and university police. Shepardson came to Bentley in 1993 as judicial coordinator and was promoted to assistant dean, associate dean, and dean in 1996, 2002, and 2004, respectively. He began his current position on the cabinet in 2011. He completed his Ph.D. at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. He has an M.Ed. in student development and counseling from Northeastern University and a B.A. in English from St. Michael’s College in Vermont. He has taught at the undergraduate level as an adjunct faculty member in the management department at Bentley, at the graduate level in both the administration of higher education program at Suffolk University and the higher education doctoral program at Northeastern University. He has been named staff member of the year by Bentley students; won the Circuit of the Year award from the Association of Student Judicial Affairs; received the Founder’s Day award from his colleagues at Bentley and the Dissertation of the Year by the Association of Student Judicial Affairs.


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