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Academic Spotlight: CBE Associate Dean Kelly Gump

Southern New Hampshire University competency-based education associate dean Kelly Gump.Kelly Gump is an associate dean in Southern New Hampshire University's competency-based education programs. She earned her bachelor degree in zoology from Ohio State University and a master's in educational administration from Baldwin Wallace University. Recently, she answered questions about what drew her to higher education, how she connects with students and more.

Can you tell us about your professional background?

I began my career as a middle school science teacher. When I had my children, I left the classroom and transitioned into online teaching. I had intended to go back to a traditional classroom, but online education was growing, and I was able to find more work that allowed me to stay home with my kids. I found roles in instructional design, teacher professional development, mentoring and more. Eventually, some of that work led me to higher education.

What first drew you to higher education?  

I always love a new challenge. After many years in the K12 space, higher education felt like a natural transition. I found myself considering my own college experiences and the future of my students. It was clear to me that there was room to improve the learning experience at this level.

What aspects of your own education have been influential in shaping your career in academia?  

My K12 experience was positive but it did not prepare me for college. I struggled academically my first year. I was not equipped with the tools I needed to be successful, and I was uneasy reaching out to ask for help. Eventually, I found my footing and was able to earn a degree in an area that interested me (zoology), but I lacked a career focus.

I spent several years figuring out what I was meant to do. I enrolled in a graduate program for biology but that did not feel right. I moved on to a year of law school, but again felt something was lacking. It was then that I noted a program at a local college where I could earn my master’s in education (MEd) and teacher licensure at the same time. If nothing else, that felt like a place I could start and build something.

I enjoyed every minute of my master’s program. I realized that saying, “you’ll know when you know,” applies to education and career paths. My professors and supports provided by the college helped me understand what a positive higher education experience could be. I understood the power of not just good curriculum but connections with others. It was the people that really made the difference for me and that is what I keep in mind every day at SNHU.

What attracted you to this field of study? What keeps you excited about it?  

I am part of the Competency- Based Education (CBE) team at SNHU. I manage our faculty and I oversee some of our general studies competencies.

I was initially attracted to the CBE program because I saw it as something innovative. It was also an opportunity for me to learn and grow as I was not familiar with CBE when I began my career at SNHU.

What drew me to CBE is what keeps me excited about it. A one-size-fits-all approach in education does not work. Students come to us with different needs, personal circumstances and levels of readiness for college level work. CBE can provide many of them with the format they need to be successful. With that success, they can gain the confidence they need to persist and earn their degree.

I have heard enough student stories to know that CBE can be a game changer for some students. I cannot wait to see how many more learners our program can impact in the years to come!

How have you found ways to effectively connect with students?  

Students need to know that we care, and we want to see them succeed. They also each have their own preferred ways to receive those messages. As an adjunct, I work to make sure I engage with students in as many ways as possible. I like to use video to introduce myself. Making connections can be tough online and I think seeing and hearing me goes a long way to making me more approachable.

I use tools like announcements and email to share important information. I like to use my past experiences to be as proactive as I can to guide them on assignments before the due date. I also direct them to the great supports SNHU has available like tutoring and the writing center.

What brings you the greatest joy in your work as an associate dean?  

My greatest joy as an associate dean is knowing that my work with faculty directly impacts our students. I love receiving notes from advisors or students about an awesome experience with one of our faculty members. Knowing a student found success and motivation to keep moving forward because of an interaction they had with our faculty is why I do the work I do.

What do you feel is unique about the faculty and students you work with?  

Our CBE students and faculty are trailblazers. They are part of an innovative program where they need to be willing to set aside much of that they know based on traditional education and courses. They are willing to try something new and they are willing to roll with changes as we constantly strive to improve the student and faculty experience.

What does SNHU’s mission to transform the lives of learners mean to you?  

For me, SNHU’s mission means that I have the opportunity, every day, to make an impact. Learners come to us for a variety of reasons, but in each case, they are here to change something in their lives. They may want more job security, a promotion, a shift in careers or just to show that they can persevere and earn a degree. The reason is not what matters to me. What matters to me is that I do all I can to provide them with a meaningful experience and the support that allows them to achieve their goal.

Outside of work, what’s something you’re passionate about or really enjoy doing?  

When I am not working, I enjoy spending time with family and friends. We like to travel and one of our favorite destinations is Disney World. I am also a huge fan of Ohio State, the Cleveland Browns and Cavaliers and Guardians. On a nice day you will find me taking work breaks on a quick bike ride and I am always up for a new dining experience — just don’t ask me to cook.

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Joe Cote is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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