This is part seven of a nine-part series profiling American Sentinel University’s leadership team. Check back each Monday to learn more about the strong leadership that guides American Sentinel and gather their tips for success in healthcare and in education.
If you’ve ever wondered what a Chief Academic Officer does, the answer is “a little bit of everything.” The short version of Mary Adam’s job description includes operations, handling student issues, compliance issues, academic issues, institutional issues, financial aid, student retention and student success. “It takes a village,” she replies modestly, but thank goodness the American Sentinel University village has a Chief and President like Mary Adams.
Dumb luck or destiny?
How Mary Adams came to American Sentinel is a fascinating story that involves a car battery, a pre-World War II German immigrant, 100 yards of telephone cable and an unexpected road trip to Mission de San Juan Capistrano. The year was 1988, just a few years before the Washington Post would quote Clifford Stoll, a Harvard astronomer-turned-computer expert, as saying “the Internet’s potential to transform the way we live is largely just a bunch of hype.”
Practicality can be priceless
The fact that Mary would meet the elderly German immigrant who would forever change the landscape of higher education had less to do with Mary’s thirst for knowledge, and more to do with her practical side. She was in her senior year of undergraduate school, married and raising four children. She was given a choice between managing a major conference on Public History or writing a 35-paged history paper. She chose the conference since it seemed a lot easier than finding the time to research and the lengthy paper.
So when Eric Boehm, author of We Survived: Fourteen Histories of the Hidden and Hunted in Nazi Germany, didn’t show up for breakfast or the first of the morning sessions on day two of the conference, Mary naturally presumed he had fallen ill or perhaps he was dead. She checked in on him only to discover he was running late, working on his latest retirement project, an online graduate school. Returning the favor, he invited Mary to join him and a few other attendees at a special conference event being held in Mission de San Juan Capistrano. The only problem was, the elderly gentlemen had forgotten the security code to his BMW. After numerous attempts, Mary had the bright idea to check with BMW who shared the secret to solving the problem: simply unplug the car battery. “From that point forward, Eric thought I was brilliant and could solve any problem, even though all I did was make a phone call,” Mary laughed.
Genius vs. ingenuity
The next day, Dr. Boehm turned to Mary again for help. He wanted to do an online demonstration of his presentation about the power of online databases. There was just one small problem. Wi-Fi would not become available for another ten years! Thinking on her feet, Mary called her husband who just happened to work for the IT Department at Cal State. Together they scavenged every available yard of telephone cable from home and work, stringing a line across the parking lot to the conference venue for the online demo of what is now Aspen University, founded by Dr. Boehm the year before in 1987.
Keys to success
While it certainly helps to be in the right place at the right time, President Mary Adams is a firm believer in setting goals. It’s advice she lives by and shares with students whenever she gets a chance. “You’ve got to be committed to your end goal. Actually write it down and clearly articulate why you are doing this. Then, stop and imagine in detail what it looks like when everything, including your plan, falls apart. How will you cope?
How will you get caught up? Make all of this part of your DNA, so that when the going gets rough, you will remember why you want this so badly, and you won’t give up.”
Ask for help
“I remember one student who spent eleven hours just trying to get online. It was 1994, and she didn’t realize she needed a modem to connect to the Internet. She was beside herself and in tears having tried to do the impossible all day, when all she had to do was ask for help sooner,” President Adams recalled. Of course, what better person could you possibly turn to for help than Mary Adams?
Read the other Meet the Leaders articles to learn more about American Sentinel leadership.