Q&A: Glena Temple Brings Passion for Serving Students to Role as President
Glena Temple, a veteran of higher education leadership, took office In August 2021 as Dominican University’s 11th president. In this Q&A, we talk with Dr. Temple about her journey from first-generation college student to college president, and what drew her to Dominican.
You were at Viterbo for nearly two decades, including the last four as president. You've said you weren’t necessarily looking to leave, but what was it that drew you to Dominican?
There were only a few jobs that would have pulled me away, and I think that’s a real testament to Dominican. It has many of the characteristics that I loved about Viterbo: a sense of community, a sense of family, a sense of working toward a common goal. You know students by name. You also know your colleagues by name and you know them as people. But I think what makes Dominican special to me is its commitment to the mission of reflection and action, upholding human dignity and trying to create a more just world. It’s a community-based campus with an amazing mission and focus on equity and inclusivity, with fantastic outcomes—it just was too good of an opportunity to not at least consider.
First impressions, what are some things about campus or the people you’ve had a chance to meet so far that stand out to you or surprise you?
Campus is beautiful and you can tell it’s a loved space, which I think says a lot about a community. Dominican is an integral part of the community of River Forest and surrounding areas, and that is appealing to me. Everyone I interacted with during the interview process, from trustees to students, was so friendly, so genuine and seemed to really care that I was having a good experience. Walking around campus, everyone said hello to me even if they didn’t know who I was. That’s not as common as you might think.
And when I’d ask people why they work at Dominican, their commitment to the students and commitment to the mission just came across loud and clear. When I asked what areas needed improvement, I didn’t hear about the list of things that you would expect in the challenging world of higher education. What I heard was passion about how can we do an even better job serving our students. This commitment really impressed me.
Dominican is home to many students who are the first in their families to attend college. You were a first-generation graduate. How does that help you relate to today’s first-gen students?
Having been a first-gen student helped me find my own vocation in this space and it’s something—throughout my career working at community colleges and Viterbo—that has stayed with me. Both of my parents had some college, but my sister and I were the first to get a four-year degree. My parents sacrificed a tremendous amount for us to be ready for college and to go to college, so this helps me relate to families making sacrifices today.
While my mother was earning her technical degree in the lab sciences, her school was transitioning toward a four-year bachelor’s program. She shared with me a story about one professor who told her not to bother applying for the four-year program because he would never pass a woman. After she finished her two-year degree she also had challenges with companies not wanting to hire a woman in the sciences. As a result, I was motivated to break through the ceilings and barriers my mother hit. And, of course, I recognize the many privileges that have allowed me to reach this point, and students today have all kinds of barriers and roadblocks I haven’t faced. What motivates me to do the work to reduce barriers for student access and success is based in part on my own lived experiences, and also based on the stories of students today.
Can you talk about your own experience navigating college as a first-generation student? What challenges did you encounter?
I did well in high school overall. When I got to Allegheny College, I realized many students clearly knew how to navigate higher education on a level that I did not. I remember sitting in calculus as a freshman and thinking, “It seems like they have all had calculus in high school and I’m the only one who doesn’t seem to have a clue.” By mid-semester I was failing calculus—a gateway course in the sciences—and I didn’t go get help and just suffered alone. I was ashamed to tell my parents, who were sacrificing so much for me to go to college. I just struggled through and I lost all confidence in my career plans.
Luckily, I benefited from really good mentors at Allegheny who gave me experiences throughout my four years in service and research—what we now call high-impact experiences—which helped me find my path toward graduate school.
We know this is a common cycle with first-gen students who struggle. You hit a barrier, you get very out-of-sorts and your confidence goes way down. My passion for student support systems and wraparound care stems from my own experience and also my experiences in higher education for the last 20 years at institutions that serve a significant number of underserved and first-generation students.
You were in track and cross-country. What role did athletics play in your student experience?
For me, track and field was a lifeline during those moments when I was really struggling and I know it was critical to my persistence at Allegheny. The team was my support group. My coach was the person who first recognized I was struggling and helped me connect with resources and opportunities on campus. Through track my leadership grew, I strengthened my work ethic, I found a supportive community, and I was able to thrive in college in large part because of that community. I always got better grades in season, because of the structure, than I did out of season. I have known many other students over the last 20 years with similar stories.
At Viterbo, you continued to teach even as you served as president. How does having that classroom experience and direct interaction with students help you be a better president? And will you teach at Dominican?
Recently I co-taught a mission seminar for freshmen. It was really rewarding. I don’t think you’d want anyone in a president’s job who wouldn’t find working with the students rewarding. Otherwise, they’re in the wrong profession. The course was a great way to get to know the students, explain the mission and history to them and also step into the shoes of the faculty just a little bit to understand what they’re going through.
I look forward to getting to know the students at Dominican in whatever ways possible, whether it’s guest lectures or co-teaching a course or just being engaged and involved.
Being actively engaged with the students makes me a better leader. If you don’t know your students and their stories and what their struggles and passions are, then it’s hard to do the job well.
What goals or areas of focus do you have in mind for your first year and beyond at Dominican?
Getting to know the culture of the students and the Dominican culture is my first priority. There’s a great strategic plan that Dominican is making progress on, so obviously I’ll work to continue that momentum. I am committed to engaging in the growing anti-racism agenda and the diversity, equity and inclusion work that I know the campus is very passionate about.
Also, we’re all going to have to recover (hopefully) from the impact of the COVID pandemic on the university and figure out what we learned from the experience that carries forward to the future to make the institution stronger.
You’ve had many roles in higher education, from professor all the way up to university president. What have been some of your favorite moments, stories or lessons?
As a biology faculty member, one thing that stands out was helping build an undergraduate research culture, first in the sciences and then extending that across campus. This work started my love and understanding of high-impact practices and how important they are for equity.
While a faculty member and honors director, I led multiple trips with students, with an emphasis on making the trips accessible for all in terms of cost and time commitment. We exposed students to new cultures and spaces and we learned alongside them. These were very rewarding moments as I look back on my career.
Here’s another good story. My very first alumni event as a new president, I was down in Arizona at a preseason baseball game when a high-velocity foul ball hit me in my shoulder. I wasn’t even watching the game; I was trying to network in the food line! I had to have shoulder surgery as a result. I can (kind of) laugh now, but yeah, I don’t think most presidents think they’re going to get injured on the job! I still have the ball in my office so I can remember the moment.
What are a few other things you’d like the Dominican community to know about you?
My biology training influences my approach to leadership. Science training, particularly in biology, is great training for university leadership because both involve embracing complex, interrelated systems and recognizing the beauty that exists.
I’m also an introvert and love analyzing data. As a result, I do need time for reflection, prayer and reading, and to recharge, which I think is a little uncommon in presidents.
A few other fun facts: My husband is British. My only sister lives in Indonesia. So I travel quite a bit to go see family. I grew up in New York, and have also lived in Pennsylvania, California, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
My hobbies include reading (all genres), hiking, gardening and kayaking.
And, of course, I’m very excited to be joining Dominican and the River Forest communities.