President’s corner: Katherine Frank, the “curator” of today’s most innovative cross-sector partnerships

University of Wisconsin-Stout Chancellor Katherin Frank was endowed with a special talent thanks to her professional background in English: She became a curator, effectively connecting a wide range of experts for the betterment of the students and their impact on the workforce.

University of Wisconsin-Stout Chancellor Katherine Frank has the honor of claiming many “firsts” for her university. As one of only two special mission universities in the Wisconsin system and its designated polytechnic university, Stout has maneuvered onto the cutting edge of workforce development and explored different college pathways for K12 graduates and learners of all backgrounds, thanks to Frank’s thoughtful leadership.

UW-Stout recently launched a first-of-its-kind bachelor of science in automation leadership that fully integrates pipelines from the K12 and technical college spheres. This past fall, the polytechnic launched an apprenticeship certificate that breached uncharted waters between a higher education institution and the state Department of Workforce Development.

With how strongly Chancellor Frank has forwarded the mission of UW-Stout to strengthen career pathways to industry, technology and the like, one would imagine her professional background to be embedded in business, STEM or even a blue-collar background. Actually, she has a doctorate in English; her research delved into Romantic and Victorian English Literature, rhetoric and composition and the scholarship of teaching.

Stepping into the presidency in 2020, Frank admits it was challenging for people to think about how she might excel in this role. However, after her yearslong work with the National Writing Project, she learned that her experience as a writer was integral in connecting her passion to the student experience. Even better, Frank was endowed with a special talent thanks to her walk of life: She became a curator, effectively connecting a wide range of experts for the betterment of the students and their impact on the workforce.

“It goes back to being able to communicate across stakeholder groups, being able to see the big picture, being able to think creatively and innovatively to be able to help people to understand and recognize the potential across different groups. That’s where I bring strengths to the table,” says Frank. “I’m not an expert in everything, but I’m pretty good at getting experts to talk to each other.”

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How Chancellor Frank navigates the complex web of partnerships

While her English background connected her to the K12 space, Chancellor Frank has broadened her framework of frequent collaborators to create a truly robust and sustainable student-college-career pipeline. UW-Stout’s initiatives are supported by three pillars: the K12 space, the technical college sector and business/industry.

“It’s really about leaning on our partners to continue to nurture the workforce and educational ecosystem,” she says. “All of it feeds into how we operate, and it fosters that collaborative spirit that’s so important to helping us towards success and fulfillment of our mission.”

Every academic program at UW-Stout has a program advisory committee comprised of business and industry experts. Moreover, the university has one of the state’s largest career and technical education programs, supplying working faculty to Chippewa Valley Technical College and Western Technical College, two of UW-Stout’s most frequent collaborators. To bond with K12 effectively, Chancellor Frank admits how tough it can be.

“The web of relationships is really complex between K12 and higher ed, so being as present in each other’s worlds as possible is important. You need to understand what it feels like to be in a high school setting, and likewise, our colleagues in the high school setting need to know what it feels like to be in that post-secondary setting.”

Where her passion at UW-Stout comes from

Chancellor Frank’s ability to fortify connections across the three sectors culminated in the leadership automation bachelor’s degree, which even K12 students can begin attaining credits toward, allowing the transfer of up to 88 credits from any technical or community college in the country.

“We’re fools if we think that the educational pipeline is going to look the same as it did when we went through school and 10, 15, 20 years from now,” she says.

Her focus on flexibility is rooted in her closeness to the student experience and wisdom she’s gained, again, thanks to her partners. One she’s particularly grateful for is with the Alliance for Innovation and Technology (AFIT), in which UW-Stout was the only university member among community and technical college presidents and colleagues from business and industry. AFIT challenged Chancellor Frank to think critically about how AI will change the type of work available and the degrees needed to prepare students best.

“That type of professional development experience is critical for being able to engage in new ways, step outside your comfort zone and stretch yourself in a way that’s going to allow you to transform what you do.”

Chancellor Frank often reflects on the words of Sunem Beaton-Garcia, president of Chippewa Valley Technical College, a good friend of hers: There is a variety of on-ramps and off-ramps into education, and with our students continuously coming from diverse backgrounds and diverse experiences, higher ed leaders need to be aware of the ever-changing needs of our students.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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