Aiming for Exceptional Care, Accountability, and Results

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May 03, 2019
by Oscar Tollast
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Aiming for Exceptional Care, Accountability, and Results

Former advisor to Salzburg Global Astrid S. Tuminez discusses her new appointment as the president of Utah Valley University and her memories of Schloss Leopoldskron Astrid S. Tuminez, president of Utah Valley University (Photo: UVU Marketing Communication)

In 2018, Astrid S. Tuminez was appointed the seventh president of Utah Valley University, becoming the institution's first female president. Before joining UVU, she served as an executive at Microsoft and, before then, as the former vice dean of research and assistant dean of executive education at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, the National University of Singapore. Tuminez is a Salzburg Global Fellow and former advisor to the organization. We recently spoke with Tuminez to learn more about her work and her memories of Salzburg Global.

You've been appointed the seventh president of Utah Valley University. Congratulations! How does it feel, and what do you want to achieve in this role?

It feels amazing to be the seventh and first female president of Utah Valley University (UVU), the largest university in the state of Utah. UVU has a long history - founded in 1941 - of being scrappy, gritty and relevant. In the current age of digital transformation, massive technology-driven change, and continuing - and, in some cases, rising - inequality, I feel that an institution like UVU is so promising. We have open admissions, and we believe in capitalizing human capital, wherever it comes from. Seventy percent of our students work, 18 percent are people of color, and 29 percent are 25 years or older. We offer vocational, career and technical education through the community college model, while also offering over 90 bachelor’s degrees and 11 master’s degrees. I am sometimes daunted by the responsibilities of being UVU president, but, every day, I am renewed and energized because the work is so meaningful. I work with a wonderful team of administrators, faculty, and staff. Together we can enhance thousands of students’ chances to get the education that will help them live productive, dignified and meaningful lives. That is what “student success” means to me, and that’s what I want to achieve in this role.
 
You have a vast amount of experience in academia, philanthropy, technology, and business. How will these experiences help you in your new role?

I am a rather untraditional university president, having worked in so many other fields - academic being only one of them - before coming to UVU. When I first applied for this job and did the interviews, I had the epiphany that everything I knew how to do and all the skills and experiences I had acquired could actually be put to good use at a university. I had done research, administration, sales and marketing, legal and compliance, fundraising, investing, peacemaking, etc.—and a university is the perfect place for applying all the lessons I’ve learned in these other fields. Although my Ph.D. is in political science and my undergraduate degree was in Russian literature and international relations, I have always wanted to be more broad than narrow. Today, when knowledge is no longer siloed, I think my experiences can be relevant to students who will likely have non-linear lives and many different careers in their lifetime.
 
Your profile on Chartwell describes you as an expert in leadership, state-building, nationalism, entrepreneurship, and negotiation. You have spoken on a range of subjects with different audiences. However, is there one learning or piece of wisdom which you always try to convey to others?

At UVU, I have articulated our foundational values as “Exceptional Care, Exceptional Accountability and Exceptional Results.” If there is one piece of wisdom that I have frequently shared, that is the importance of caring. We have to see people as they are, care about them, and be curious about their identities and life experience. If we build from a foundation of care, we can then follow with tough conversations. We can lead in ways that build people, not break them down.

If we focus on leadership, Salzburg Global challenges current and future leaders to shape a better world. In your opinion, what are some of the qualities you would recommend leaders across sectors to work on?

I would go back again to “Exceptional Care” as a foundation. I believe that leaders who are in the game only for power or their own egos will not necessarily shape a better world. Leaders should not believe their own propaganda. That is so unhealthy. The second value I have articulated at UVU is “Exceptional Accountability.” Do leaders walk their talk? Do they act as ethical and responsible stewards of the resources they do control? Are they honest? Do they have integrity?  Finally, at UVU, I have highlighted “Exceptional Results” as our third foundational value. Leaders who want to shape a better world should know how to execute, how to get things done, how to have impact.
 
I notice you've attended a Salzburg Global Seminar program on Asian economics, alumni events in New York and Singapore, and a Freeman Foundation Symposium. What can you remember about these experiences? Did they have an impact on your career or inspire new ways of thinking?

I have also visited Middlebury when the Seminar still had staff there, and I was an advisor to the Seminar for a few months, out of New York City. My first visit to Schloss Leopoldskron was magical. I made friends with whom I am still in touch today. I remember dancing to Abba’s “Dancing Queen” in the Schloss’ basement. It was such an amazing time of intellectual, social and even emotional renewal. I was thrilled to return a second time. And then I returned for a third time with my family to do one of Schloss Leopoldskorn’s Christmas specials. We had sleigh rides, and my kids roamed around the Schloss looking for hidden doors and passageways. We loved it. The impact on my career has included a deeper appreciation of cross-cultural and interdisciplinary dialogue and a keener understanding of the importance of networks - people and ideas. Amb. Frank Wisner, my mentor who first introduced me to Salzburg Global Seminar, remains my friend and mentor to this day.
 
In 2014, I understand you were a senior advisor on global strategy and programs for Salzburg Global, too. What motivated you to take on that role, and what was that experience like?

What motivated me to take on that role was the very positive experience and interaction I had had with Salzburg Global, with its Board of Trustees (I attended one meeting in Dallas, TX), with the new leadership under Stephen L. Salyer, and all the colleagues and friends I had met as a Salzburg Global Fellow. If I recall correctly, I was charged to think about new strategies to strengthen Salzburg Global’s programs, reputation, and fundraising. It was a very enjoyable assignment. Alas, it was short-lived!
 
In a documentary for UVU, we heard how you had a deep commitment to education and liked the idea of educational opportunities across a broad range. Education is the big break in life and frees the human spirit, as the narrator says. What can we do more to highlight the importance of education in the public and private sector and ensure more resources are invested in this area?

Access and affordability are two big buzzwords in the world of education. I believe both are important. I was very lucky as a child, growing up in the slums of the Philippines, to have been given access by Catholic nuns to a high-quality education. They exempted me from tuition, so it was affordable! That opportunity changed the whole trajectory of my life and paved the way to where I am today. I think governments around the world should do more to fund education and to ensure that education is delivered in both traditional and new modalities, meeting people/students where they are - face-to-face, online, hybrid, older students, off-ramp and on-ramp students and so on.  

I am concerned, in the U.S. in particular, that many bash higher education and denigrate its value. The fact of the matter is, without higher education, the United States will not be able to maintain its competitiveness; neither will it live up fully to its values as a democratic and equitable society.  In Asia, where I lived for 13 years, I was very impressed that the public sector in ambitious countries and territories was investing heavily in education, including K-12, university, and adult continuing education.

We are facing a lot of disruption today, and human welfare will depend very much on giving more people access to a quality, affordable education. As for the private sector, I believe in partnerships between industry and higher education institutions. There can be collaborations involving work experience for students [such as] internships [and] apprenticeships; curriculum design from non-academic certification to associate’s/bachelor’s/master’s degrees, and continuing education for those already employed. Nobody can afford to stand still today. We must be learn-it-alls, and the work of education needs support from universities, governments, and industry.
 
We like to ask Salzburg Global Fellows what inspires them to do their day-to-day work. With that in mind, what motivates you?
 
UVU students motivate me more than anything. Behind every number in the 40,000 students we have is a person, a story that is unfolding.  My interactions with UVU students replenish my energy. I work for them. When they succeed, I succeed. Nothing is more motivating than that.