Finalists for Dean of Graduate and Continuing Education position speak at open forum -Marilyn Cleary
By Branden LaCroix
FSU held a forum for Marilyn Cleary, one of the finalists for the dean of Graduate and Continuing Education position, March 23.
Cleary is currently the assistant dean of graduate studies and continuing education at Worcester State University. She is also currently an adjunct professor in the education and communications departments.
Cleary earned a bachelor’s in biotechnology and a master’s in business administration from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and a doctor of education in organizational leadership from Northeastern University.
She is also the recipient of the 2022 Diversity and Inclusion Award from Worcester State University and sits on the board of Massachusetts ACE Women’s Network, an organization that supports women in higher education.
She said, “It's always been a goal of mine to engage in meaningful and impactful work. It's very important to me - I want to be able to make a change in the lives of students, create pathways, and also support the enrollment and revenue goals of the institution.”
One of Cleary’s focuses is adult university students, which she identifies as a growing population.
“There are 650,000 adult students in Massachusetts with some credits and no degree,” she said. “So this is a growing market.”
Along with the opportunities of market growth focusing on adult university students, she added it is also a social justice issue.
“If we can make a good pathway for our adult students, we support that group as well,” she said. “And in my understanding of the mission and vision of Framingham State, I believe that this all falls into line with the vision and mission of the University.”
She said through her dissertation and research, she developed an “adult-student blueprint.”
She said the recruitment of adult students requires a “whole different model” than for traditional students. Part of this model will be the development of mentor programs.
Cleary said she has been involved with developing multiple mentoring programs, including peer mentoring, faculty mentoring, BIPOC ministry, staff mentoring, and alumni mentoring.
She added she focuses on prior learning assessments for adult students, which helps “shorten the pathway” for them.
Another focus of Cleary’s is program development, part of which is to allow new programs the opportunity “to gain momentum.
“Sometimes, there'll be a wonderful program, but because it didn't grow fast enough, or our expectations maybe weren't realistic for how quickly the program would grow, we ended up canceling it before it really had a chance to fly,” she said.
Cleary added, “We want to make sure that our programs prepare our students for jobs with family-sustaining wages.”
She said she also values student input when developing new programs.
Another goal of Cleary’s is to establish more partnerships through community outreach to employers.
“It's very important to have these relationships with our employers to make sure that our programming is aligning with their needs,” she said.
Mirari Elcoro, a professor of psychology and vice president of the FSU chapter of the Massachusetts State College Association, asked Cleary if she has experience working in a unionized environment.
Cleary said she has always had a “collaborative relationship” with unionized faculty and staff.
“I have never had any issues with my faculty colleagues, and hope that in the spirit of relationship building that I won’t,” she said. “And if I do, I hope that we can solve them.”
Cleary was also asked by an attendee over Zoom what undergraduate programs might appeal to non-traditional students.
She said according to her research, a majority of adult students gravitate toward business and psychology programs.
She said many adult students also look for classes that are HyFlex, which is a combination of in-person and online modality, which gives them the option of working remotely.
She added a challenge for many adult students is poverty, “so, we have to be flexible in our delivery so that they can participate in the programming.”
Cleary said from her experience, adult students “want to know, ‘How long is this going to take? How much is this going to cost? And what kind of job am I going to get at the end?’
“So, we can answer those questions. And we can offer them classes in the timeframe and the modality that they want,” she said. “I think that would make us very attractive to adult students.”