Putting Student Learning at the Center of the Equation
For Maria Dezenberg, provost of Richard Bland College of William and Mary, experiential learning is a way of life. It first began before she even became a teacher or taught a class—when she was a child attending schools across different continents, including in the Middle East and Scandinavia, because of her father’s job in the military.
“I enjoyed different cultures and for me that was where learning took place,” said Dezenberg.
After earning her undergraduate degree, Dezenberg spent 27 months serving in the Peace Corps, living and teaching English in Micronesia. She then instructed international students in ESL in San Diego—where she first became interested in the idea of experiential learning for adults.
When Dezenberg was hired to be a dean at DeVry University in Las Vegas, she used the opportunity to implement enriched learning environments. She then took that a step further, asking: “How do we create an engaging learning environment and campus culture?” It’s this question that eventually led her to pursue her degree in Leadership and Change from Antioch University to become a stronger leader who could implement those kinds of campus-wide initiatives.
“I just knew that you needed to build teams of faculty and administration to help engage students,” said Dezenberg.
Dezenberg said that when she was researching graduate programs she applied to only Antioch because it was the one campus progressive enough to meet her needs to “be interacting with people from all different realms of leadership, where she could learn from them.”
“In all of my research on PhD programs, Antioch University stood out as an institution that placed the student and their research interests at the forefront of the learning process, and this was especially appealing to me,” said Dezenberg. “This magical ingredient is not common in our typical education recipes.”
She says that during the three years of her program, being among people from all different sectors of leadership such as military, religion, banking, and healthcare, provided the diverse perspective to help her to become a more well-rounded leader. She said it also allowed her to learn about leadership best practices that could apply to any situation and multiple types of challenges. At Antioch, she could define the type of leader that she had always been but had never put into words.
“For me, those years were pivotal in helping me define how organizational culture has been a focus in my career, even though I didn’t know that it was,” said Dezenberg. “I was instinctively building teams around positive change to engage students and employees.”
In Dezenberg’s new role as a provost, she says she has committed to a “learning journey.” That quest involves engaging groups of faculty, administration, and students to better understand the college’s challenges and opportunities.
She said: “I have a passion for bridging people and creating positive connections. I want to create inclusive spaces that foster collaboration and innovation in education settings where students are at the center of the equation.”