Editor’s note: Nominations are now open for the 2022-23 cohort of the Complete Tennessee Leadership Institute. Learn more.

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” — Malcolm X

As a second-generation college graduate and the child of two educators, education has always played a major role in my life. Going to and graduating from college was never an option in my household, it was an inevitability. I grew up on college campuses, attended multiple graduations, and sat through countless lectures. At the time, I was unaware of how all of this would pave the way to my future career.

When I received the email to join the 2021-2022 Complete Tennessee Leadership Institute, I was excited at the opportunity to meet and share ideas with other thought leaders. Access to such a diverse population of educators in the state provided by SCORE allowed for thought-provoking conversation, collaboration, and partnerships within the cohort.

Our first CTLI meeting focused on students in higher education and their access needs. I was eager to hear from the resource experts and was inspired by their passion for their work. The honesty and transparency that came from Frank Stevenson of Tennessee State University was refreshing. The out-of-the-box thinking from Dr. Michael Torrence of Motlow State Community College was thought provoking. And to learn how Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) have stabilized enrollment during the pandemic was inspiring.  

As I have worked in student success, student needs — along with access — have been highly discussed topics. Closing the access gaps for Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous students is a priority of the state.  Participating in conversations around how we as a state can work together to close these gaps was exciting and intriguing.

During the second CTLI convening, I was filled with the urge to work with my direct reports to complete action plans to boost student attainment while narrowing equity gaps. Listening to Krissy DeAlejandro of tnAchieves and Susan Rhodes of The Ayers Foundation gave me a broader knowledge of ways that I can work to increase access to Motlow. Listening to Dr. Tracey Hall, president of Southwest Tennessee Community College, drove me to seek ways to inspire my colleagues to focus on embedding equity in persistence and retention initiatives.

During the March 2021 meeting, we focused on supporting student completion. I was completely engaged in the dialogue of the resource experts. Questions raised were poignant and loudly reverberated throughout the day. “Are we ready to engage our students when they come to campus?” “How can we be better gateways as opposed to gatekeepers?” “What are the barriers to student success?” “How can we engage parents?” “Are we marketing the value of education?”

Attending this meeting encouraged me to delve more deeply into our analytics and data; I asked myself questions about our processes and structure within the department. I left the meeting reinvigorated and excited to get back to campus to ask my colleagues the same questions.

CTLI has provided the opportunity to build relationships, share ideas, collaborate with leaders, learn about resources available to students, and identify challenges our students face. Being in the 2021-22 cohort expanded my knowledge about equity in higher education and issues relating to completion, retention, and persistence. The knowledge shared through CTLI has been impactful and empowering. I am thankful to have been selected for this experience and for the opportunity to channel that experience into more positive outcomes for Tennessee students.

Dr. Sidney McPhee is director of student success at Motlow State Community College and a member of the 2021-22 cohort of the Complete Tennessee Leadership Institute.

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