As many registrars know, technology can not only lead to transformation in the record’s office, but also in your career trajectory. Adrienne Bricker, University Registrar at The Ohio State University, has previously held roles at Queens College, Hunter and UMN and has had an interesting journey in her career, one often led by her background in technology. She shares her experience moving through the ranks, and the ways technology can lead us into new professional opportunities. We virtually connected with Adrienne to hear her perspective. What follows is a Q&A between us:
Let’s begin by talking about how you arrived at your current position. Can you tell us briefly about your career path?
Adrienne: I actually studied dance in college and was a student worker, so I didn’t come from a technological background. I was then a financial aid counselor at Queens College, working there for a couple of years. During that time, I was given the opportunity to work on a PeopleSoft implementation project. Moving over into the registrar’s office, I helped refine configurations and business process design, basically learning the business of the registrar’s office from the ground up.
I then moved over to Hunter College and worked closely with a fantastic registrar there. Having learned so much at Queens College, I was able to lend that knowledge to Hunter during the three years that I worked there. Being from Iowa initially, I visited the University of Minnesota on behalf of Hunter and fell in love with their institution and their student services setup. Once a position opened up there, I began working at UMN for around three years and was able to move closer to my family. I soon began to realize that my wingspan at UMN was a bit more narrow in that role compared to at Hunter, so I was hungry for more responsibilities. I was involved in a few searches across the country, and eventually landed at Ohio State - I’ve been here since May 2020, so I’ve been working remotely for about 11 months here in Columbus.
It seems you’ve used your interest in technology as a catalyst for moving up in your career. Would you agree with that
Adrienne: I suppose so. My educational background isn’t in technology, so my interest came more from an innate curiosity to learn how things work, understand what doesn’t work, and figure out how things can be done differently or more efficiently. This same curiosity is what helped develop my expertise, especially in implementing new solutions. I remember at the University of Minnesota, I got an interesting question from the (then) IT Director: “You have all this experience, but what makes you think you’re ready for this job when we already have people that can do these things for you?” He made me realize that it was important to start seeing the forest and not just the trees. I had to ensure that I was seeing the bigger picture and making the most of the finite human and technical resources that were available to me. I told him that I was ready for that challenge!
Do you think a registrar can be successful without being a leader in technology?
Adrienne: That’s a great question. The short, pithy answer is no. But really, it’s also a yes - if you’re a registrar or looking to become one and you don’t have a background in tech, the smartest thing you can do is surround yourself with people who do have that strength. After all, it would be impossible for a registrar’s office to function without some significant level of technological competency on the team. These days, more and more tech tools can integrate closely with other tech tools, so even people with functional roles benefit from understanding how these tools talk to each other, especially since this can affect their own role and the work they’re doing too. Being able to converse, translate, and articulate ideas is definitely a skill that almost everyone in the organization - not just those within the registrar’s office - needs to have.
What are your thoughts on the registrar’s role in terms of providing student-centric tools to students?
Adrienne: In a way, this relates back to the prior question. It’s important to know not just what your tool can currently do, but also what options are available in the toolset you currently have. So you kind of have to think, here’s what we currently do, here’s what we could do, and here’s something that might require IT resources.
Also, this is such an interesting time to be a registrar. The nature and utility of different systems are really fascinating. Personally, I’m interested in technology that gets the record itself closer to the student, not just the institutions. For example, when you think about a transcript, it belongs to the student but it lives within the registrar’s office. It makes it feel so far away from where it truly belongs. We should focus on putting tools in students’ hands to do what they need to do with minimal intervention. That way, students can have more substantive conversations with those resourceful people on campus.
What do you think are some limitations in the registrar’s office in terms of how technology can be used?
Adrienne: Initially, I think that we should probably put limitations on what they’re going to let technology do for us. During COVID, we’ve seen concerns with test proctoring software and some bias it may have towards certain students. And when we start to look at predictive analytics and student data -- like which students are at risk, or which students are going to finish quickly within a certain major -- the risk here is that institutions could unintentionally intervene with some students versus other students, instead of all students. The ethics and privacy of the amount of data institutions have on students is hard to compare to the notion that humans really need to be using data to intervene with students themselves.
COVID has taught us that we can do more remotely than we ever thought possible. Some of the advances made at other institutions could mean, for example, that they finally made something go paperless - this is a great advancement as a whole. But at the same time, it’s important to keep in mind that technology also has its limits - students can’t just pop in to say hi or get some help in solving their problems. There’s no substitute for that in-person communication with students.
You’ve been uniquely impacted by the Covid pandemic (not being on campus for the first year of your new job). What is your perspective on the office functioning remotely and what impact do you foresee long-term from this?
Adrienne: Yes, I’ve been remote for almost a year. I stopped by campus a few times just to run an errand or pick up a few things, but I never sat down in my office and worked. I’ve never had forty or so of our staff members in a room together. Ohio State is still advocating that those who can work from home should. So in some ways, it’s been challenging; I have a philosophy of trusting people immediately and giving them a fair chance. But it’s important for others to trust me too, and it’s difficult when they don’t see me. We have to be extra intentional about finding ways to connect with people and, at least for me, that’s been top of mind.
And are you able to connect with faculty or chair groups in the same manner?
Adrienne: Actually, yes. COVID was, in some ways, a blessing in disguise because my predecessors were fantastic registrars. Regardless of a pandemic, there was an expectation that I had to be that way too. I basically had to contribute immediately to fall planning. In a way, my ability to help with that quickly allowed me to make connections with others, which I’m thankful for.
Thank you, Adrienne Bricker, for the great insights into technology and its place in the registrar’s office.