In June 2015, Shaw University introduced Tashni Dubroy as president, ushering in a new era of leadership with promises of fiscal conservatism, entrepreneurial development and innovation.
In two years, Dubroy has emerged as one of the nation’s top small college presidents, reversing years of enrollment declines, breaking fundraising records and boosting the institution’s profile in Raleigh’s burgeoning startup community.
We talked with Dubroy about her path to the presidency, her focus on business development and startup culture, and the challenges and opportunities of being a young college executive.
EDUCATION DIVE: You are among the nation’s youngest college presidents, and serving as the head of your alma mater. What kind of pressure is associated with either of those realities?
TASHNI DUBROY: The beauty about this job is that metrics speak for the quality of the leadership, and that they don’t have to be attached to, or shaped by factors like age or gender. The goal is being able to actualize the board’s shared vision for progress and success. All institutions aim to ensure spending within means, and to make strategic investments that promote student success, support in faculty teaching and research, and community outreach that reflect their mission. Shaw, like many institutions which can boast more than 150 years of service, has a clear brand identity in the city of Raleigh and the state of North Carolina, so my job is to make sure that we strengthen that identity, and grow incrementally in ways that support it, while serving the interests of our surrounding communities and region and its ecosystem.
How do you achieve that balance? Because it seems like it would be a difficult mission to maintain a specialized institutional mission, while meeting the changing industrial prospects of a growing city like Raleigh?
DUBROY: You're right. It is a delicate balance to achieve and there is a sweet spot. I look at it as having one foot grounded in tradition and the other pointed forward towards innovation and excellence. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing students enroll, excited about their prospects as professionals in burgeoning fields like healthcare, journalism, entrepreneurship and STEM. Hearing their ambitions not only motivates us, but it also helps in cultivating a vision for professional pathways and addressing obstacles in affordability or adjustment to academic rigor.
This is a vital component in how we cultivate strategies for fundraising, learning and student service development. We believe that there are best practices at large, but even more critical are the best practices that better fit our students'' needs. So we try to focus on the trends that exist among our students, their feedback and goals, and to build pipelines that address their needs, while connecting them with industries and partners seeking talent in a variety of sectors.
We are committed to growing through partnerships, so Shaw is known for being a willing partner who listens to the needs of industry partners and with their input, we develop curricula to match the needs of the current and future workforce, so that our students walk into corporate spaces well prepared to think critically, solve problems and fit into a team environment. That acclimation happens long before the student leaves the halls of Shaw University via experiential learning opportunities and rigorous course work.
Shaw has developed a reputation as ‘Startup U’ in Raleigh. Can you tell us about how the school earned that moniker?
DUBROY: We've been dubbed "Startup U" mostly as a testament to our affinity for developing unique "mashups" with industry and academia. We start up uncommon partnerships that when combined augment the value proposition of both entities. We've been fortunate to partner with organizations like American Underground and the Carolina Small Business Development Fund to create new opportunities for learning and business cultivation. With American Underground, we have a learning space that allows students in our adult learning and online delivery CAPE program to take courses in a start-up hub. This gives students flexibility to balance work and learning schedules, and the chance to meet and to network with working entrepreneurs who share similar interests and backgrounds.
We were also fortunate enough to work with the Carolina Small Business Development Fund to open our Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, which allows our students, faculty and surrounding community working space to create and develop small business ideas. We believe that as an anchor institution in the heart of downtown Raleigh, it is our obligation to use resources and our executive vision to extend the university beyond its borders, and to continually build our profile as a resource for the City and its objectives for growth. We think that our work will play an invaluable role in making Raleigh’s southeastern district an ideal place to live, learn, raise families and work.
Do you consider yourself to be a role model for other women in academia, who in many cases, may be older than you are?
DUBROY: I think that all people can learn from any example of collaborative leadership in organizational structure. I take great pride in being able to meet objectives that I’m able to set in cooperation with our board and our stakeholders, and that if this example is one that shows that women are capable of quality leadership, then I know that is a very good thing. But I also think that any work I, or members of my executive cabinet are able to do, is a result of our ability to truly understand our institution, our students, and our role in this community. And that is not something that can be used as a template for every organization or every campus; it requires anyone in leadership, regardless of race or gender, to be passionate about the work and to be detailed-oriented about how to make it better. And I think that I’m extraordinarily blessed to be in a position where our approach to our specific mission and our needs is working out to be a positive example for other leaders and aspiring leaders.