“When they asked me if I wanted to come out of retirement to be an interim president, I said no.”
Interim President Dr. Jennifer Braaten has been in the education business for about 50 years. She has experience as a high school teacher, college professor, administrative dean, provost and president. Her experience doesn’t just stop with her job title;she also has experiences in many parts of the country and the world. When she heard about the offer of interim work, she originally turned it down. So what changed her mind?
When she found out that Blackburn College is a work college, she became more interested. When she heard it was student managed, she took the job. Braaten said, “I thought it would be interesting to learn what that looks like, and I was really impressed.” The way she talks about the students shows how much she really cares about her job and what she does for the campuses she’s been on.
She was hired by the Board of Trustees, who looked at the results of a search conducted by AGB Search. AGB Search is a company that helps colleges find presidents and vice presidents. The search committee at Blackburn interviewed three candidates and decided Braaten was right for the job. Provost John McClusky said in an email that “she served a college for many years that is similar to Blackburn in many ways.”
Braaten has travelled across the country and internationally to pursue educational and professional opportunities. She went to the University of Oregon for two years, St. Olaf University in Missouri for one semester, took a semester abroad at the University of Vienna in Austria, and finished her bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota. While she was teaching high school, she was also getting her master’s and doctorate degrees in education and history. Braaten has taught and been in administration at schools in Florida, Nebraska, Virginia and Minnesota.
As far as her experience being a president of a campus, Braaten admitted she never wanted that job either. She was introduced to the idea by her husband and her former colleagues telling her she should apply. Her husband actually put her name in for her first president position and she ended up getting the job. She ended up being the president at two different campuses for many years.When it comes to working for a college, Braaten is most passionate about working with students. “I love the students,” she said, “and the concept of a campus community.” She described Blackburn students specifically as “really committed, interesting and interested, smart and reflective, and they have a sense of mission.”
Education is something that has been important to Braaten her whole life, since she was a student herself. She received good grades in high school, despite dealing with a very complicated family situation. One of the biggest challenges she had to overcome revolved around education and whether she was going to pursue a college education while her family was going through so much. She took it upon herself to make sure she was getting scholarships to pay for school, along with working around the clock and still helping her family through trying times. She didn’t come from money, but still managed to do so much with her life because of her commitment to her education.
To enhance her appreciation for education and all it has to offer, Braaten also values travel and gaining different experiences and perspectives. During her 20-year span of working at Lynn University in Florida, she helped set up a campus in Dublin, Ireland. Lynn University also set up campuses in Argentina and Japan. In follow up communication with the American College in Dublin, there was a question about which students were better: the Irish or American. The faculty told Braaten that the Irish students were better prepared in terms of course material, but by graduation the American students were better able to adapt and use their critical thinking skills to be more successful overall. She compared that to the experience of students in Japan, who were originally taught more European style like the Irish students until the Fukushima incident where critical thinking and problem solving skills were more necessary than just rote memorization. They ended up structuring more of an Americanized teaching style to better prepare for tragedies that require more critical thinking skills. Braaten was fascinated by that and it made her appreciate the American way of teaching, and gave her new perspectives on how it could get better.
Although she initially didn’t want to step out of retirement to be interim president for Blackburn, she was intrigued by the concept of our student-managed work program and then blown away by the responsibilities the students take on and how their characters are built and shaped here. She has taken to her role here very quickly, as McClusky mentioned in an email: “Blackburn is in the middle of a process at will culminate with a visit by our accrediting agency Higher Learning Commission in fall, 2020, and she has helped us start the most active phase of that preparation.” She hit the ground running, and who knows what else she will accomplish by the end of this semester before she returns to retirement.