As many of you have heard, Mike Abbiatti recently retired as the Executive Director of WCET. Today’s post contains my interview with him on his last Friday in office! Mike joined me to discuss leadership, why he first joined the WCET team, and what he sees in the future for WCET and technology enhanced education in general.
The WCET team is excited for Mike as he steps out into the great unknown (or, in his case, drives his RV there). We all have appreciated Mike’s leadership for the WCET family and the entire team will miss having him around each day. Mollie McGill, WCET’s Senior Director of Operations and Membership and interim Executive Director, had this to say about Mike’s departure:
“Reflecting on Mike at the helm of WCET for the past 4+ years and WICHE Vice President, he has enriched so many of us personally and professionally as leader, teacher, champion, mentor, colleague, and friend. He constantly reminds his team that WCET is THE organization that provides “responsive excellence” to its members and these reminders help us all to give our very best efforts to WCET. Mike, thank you for all the great leadership lessons you have taught us. We will greatly miss you and Nan and send you a packed RV full of best wishes. We stand ready for the next “coin challenge!””
I personally have appreciated Mike’s professional development program for WCET team: the WCET Leadership Academy. We had “fireside chats” with various higher education leaders; an opportunity to discuss their professional lives and their advice for us to become better and more effective leaders. Mike was a wonderful leader for our team and his experiences with leadership started at a young age, as he told me…
“My first experience with leadership was in the 4th grade. I went to Mark Twain elementary school, which is in Carthage, MO. It rains a lot in Carthage, MO. One day, during recess, I clipped my yellow raincoat around my neck and decided to gallop around the playground. I did this for twenty minutes or so. When I was finished galloping and turned around, there was the rest of the class with their raincoats clipped around their necks galloping right behind me. This taught me that if you think of something to do that’s unique, that’s fun, and that’s cool, then people will want to do that. There are people out there that want to do fun and cool things. If you surround yourself with those people, then there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.”
I enjoyed this story so much! Thank you, Mike, for this lesson (and many others) on leadership. We then discussed why Mike initially joined WCET four years ago.
Why Did Mike Join WCET?
Q: What brought you to WCET?
Mike was, four years ago, interested in working for an organization that supported higher education administrators who wanted to learn about technology enhanced education, especially those who could provide data on WHY someone should invest in such an area. He was looking for the top organization in United States focused on technology and learning. He had been a longtime fan of WCET and a WCET meeting attendee, so he was familiar with the organization and the membership.
Mike particularly admired WCET’s history of success and their team model. As he told me, “it was an honor to be asked to join the team and working for this team has been a wonderful experience. I have a true passion for what WCET believes in. WCET is a family atmosphere and that’s why I refer to WCET meetings as a family reunion. This was never a job, this was a passion and a fun thing to do. My intent was to make sure the WCET team knew what their responsibilities were and provide the resources to help them do those things.”
Contributions to the Team
Q: You’ve had numerous excellent contributions to WCET – you’ve described these as “adding to the top of the cake.” What are a few of your favorite WCET moments, memories, and/or accomplishments?
Mike and I discussed numerous examples of his favorite moments and accomplishments. Here are a few memorable items:
- “I’ve enjoyed bringing new traditions to WCET – the coin challenges, the leadership academy, the things that encourage relationships within the organizations and our membership. I like to think I have furthered that cause. Those are the things I remember.
- The fun thing is watching young people grow, that’s my fondest memory of WCET. WCET hires talented, passionate, active workaholics. The biggest challenge was to be sure there was a work-life balance for our team.
- The Digital Inclusion Award is important to me. The idea there is to get the focus off of the specific technology and onto what people actually do with it.
- WCET started out as a group focused on distance education, but it needed to evolve. Now we talk about the role of technology throughout the entire institution, not only distance education. There are what I call “eras of educational technology.” The first two were “technology assisted” education. The technology was nothing more than automation tools. Then we moved to technology mediated education. But that was still just a faster way to do the same thing with the same outcome. Now, in the era of technology enhanced education, we incessantly collect data and the expectation now is that the data will produce better, faster, longer lasting educational experiences to help people with their quality of life. That’s what makes this so exciting and so hard to retire.
- It’s impressive that WCET is always on EdSurge “must attend” conference list even though we are a small team with smaller boutique events. We are the Portia of educational technology organizations.
- I have held a dual role with WCET and WICHE. A big part of that has been a cybersecurity initiative and program, which I will continue to work with. The program I created for WICHE looks at cybersecurity from a non-technical prospective. Higher education leaders have never been trained in this area. This program has impacted cybersecurity for higher education on a national level.
- The WCET cake was baked over 30 years and it was very good. I wanted to enhance the cake, so it wasn’t just the same as it was before. I wanted to add the icing on the cake. The cake will continue to grow. It’s a multilayer cake. Each person on the team and each member of WCET contributes to the layers of the cake.”
WCET and the Future
Q: You’ve said “When WCET talks, people listen…” What should or will WCET be talking about in the future?
Mike sees many things in WCET’s future, including a broader focus on the people side of technology enhanced learning and the support of college and university staff.
“We have to think about how technology impacts students across the board and the role of technology in education. Technology now moves from the home to the institution, not the institution to the home. The rules are different. We need to talk about the future of VR, AR, MR and what that means, yes, but we also need to discuss why institutions should invest in technology and how to support those who work in higher education. That’s what WCET does best. There are 3 questions WCET should talk about:
- Where are we now,
- Where are we going,
- How are we going to get there?
The technology will change every year. But it’s WCET’s business is to support those who are teaching other people things they don’t know how to do. We should see how technology enhances the process of teaching people what they don’t know how to do.
The end goal is about student success. We need to stick to what we do best (practice, policy, advocacy of technology enhanced education).”
Future of Technology Enhanced Education
Q: If you could peer into the future of technology enhanced education, what would you see? What’s coming around the corner that our community needs to be aware of?
“Today’s tech will make us rethink what education is and how we educate. Will we reach the era of the “downloadable faculty member?” Yes, we will. It’s not just online courses anymore, it’s distributed delivery of digitally available content. I was born in 1949. I saw the development of TV and of other tech, and that technology is always exciting. But we must be careful not to get so excited about the toys. The most important part of any process is the people.”
Q: When you had your last meeting with staff this week, you mentioned that you’ve been hanging out in your hot tub, looking out over Lake Estes, and considering retirement. What’s retirement going to look like for you?
Mike has many retirement plans, including coming back out of retirement someday for another role. In his words “Retirement scares me to death! I have to learn how to retire, I just don’t know!”
Here are some of the options he’s considering, though, it’s my understanding he’s letting the plan be “no plans!”
- Heading to Fayetteville Arkansas to be closer to family for part of the year but still maintain a cabin in Estes Park, CO.
- Spend time with the 15 grandkids and the new great grandkid!
- As many RV trips as possible (he did promise to come visit me here in Montana!),
- Learning Man!
- Writing a book.
These all seem like wonderful plans. Our best wishes to Mike as we bid him adieu for now. No worries, Mike, about retirement! I’m sure this adventure will be extraordinary. As your favorite philosopher says: “Remember no matter where you go, there you are!”
Assistant Director, Communications, Community, and Social Media