Provost Attends Think Tank on Academic Success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

News Story: August 28, 2015

Provost Laura Niesen de Abruna, second from right, with fellow
think tank members at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Laura Niesen de Abruna, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs at Sacred Heart University, recently spent a couple days participating in a mini-think tank at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “They held a convening on student success and completion,” de Abruna says.

She was one of 17 senior higher education experts from various institutions and associations who gathered to discuss the meaning and attributes of institutional leadership, focused specifically on leadership that fosters student success. The goals of the Convening were to help define key institutional capacities that foster postsecondary success; to identify the operational attributes of these key capacities; and to learn if these capacities are scalable and transportable. 

“The Foundation started with a focus on K-12 and now has turned its attention to post-secondary education. The goal is for young people to get a college degree,” de Abruna says, who was invited in her role as the incoming vice president of the American Council on Education’s Association of Chief Academic Officers.

“We talked about what aspects of leadership among provosts and others in academia would lead to more retention and academic completion,” she says, adding that the Foundation was particularly interested in the success of low-income, minority and first-generation students. “The participants concluded that effective presidents and provosts are enablers, in that they engage directly to enable the efforts of faculty, student affairs professionals and others to improve student support. They are clear about goals and outcomes, as well as the methods for measuring success.”

She says that going forward, the Foundation will work with 75 institutions that are already doing well and will share the information generated by the convening through papers, reports and other methods.

“This was a tremendous opportunity for me as a provost to have entrée to a conversation at the Gates Foundation,” de Abruna concludes. “To be asked to attend a convening to talk about these important academic issues was an honor.”