Lessons Learned, and learning still

An Interview with Dr. Charlotte Tullos and Galen Hench

Editor’s Note: Dr. Charlotte Tullos currently serves as the interim Senior Associate Vice President and Dean of Students at San Francisco State University in San Francisco, California. This is Charlotte’s fourth interim assignment through The Registry. She has previously served as an interim Chief Enrollment and Student Affairs Officer at Keystone College, Antioch University, and University of North Texas at Dallas. Prior to joining The Registry, Charlotte served as the Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment at Central Washington University. Galen visited with Charlotte over the phone to discuss her experiences serving as an interim Student Affairs Officer.

Hench: What is your current interim assignment, and could you tell us a little bit about it?

Tullos: I am the interim Senior Associate Vice President/Dean of Students at San Francisco State University. I am overseeing residence life, student activities, and other areas as assigned. This is my fourth Registry assignment, and I’ve made many lifelong friends along the way.

This is a very large university with about 30,000 students, both undergraduate and graduate, part-time and full time. The interesting thing about the campus is that there is no single majority of race. It is a wonderful opportunity to see the future of the world.

Hench: What has it been like to transition from the South to an assignment in San Francisco?

Tullos: Coming to a university like this you have to be able to adjust to the weather, the traffic, and the communities. I have to be able to mix in with a culture that is so different from what I am used to. I think this experience is representative of a bigger challenge of serving as an interim: you have to be able to embrace a new community, and be willing to become a part of the broader community. But as this is my fourth interim assignment, I feel that I am getting better at that.

Hench: What’s been the most pleasant/positive aspect of the culture of this institution?

Tullos: I think it is that I have felt so welcomed to this campus community. There are opportunities for mentoring, which I think is one of the main reasons I continue to seek out interim roles through The Registry. I feel like mentoring is an essential part of my life mission at this point. I just approach this appointment with the mindset of “how do I make things better?” And not just at the departmental level, but amongst the individual staff members too.

I was worried about stepping into an interim role as an outsider. But so far, everything has gone very smoothly. I feel like the culture here is driven by comradery. Any time you work in a university this large there is a lot of bureaucracy, but there is also a strong desire within each individual to do a good job. I think that motivates many of the staff members here.

Hench: What advice do you have for someone thinking about pursuing interim assignments through The Registry?

Tullos: The first thing you have to ask yourself is “do I really want to keep working?” I am an advocate of serious self-reflecting to fully understand one’s personal motivation for pursuing interim assignments. Any time I receive a notice I do a lot of self-reflecting. Two of the most important questions that I ask myself are: “would I be a good fit?” and “am I compatible with this institution?”

Any time an institution is seeking a Registry interim there is a reason. And so, in addition to considering my own motivations, I try to investigate the motivations of the institution. I always make time to review the website as thoroughly as I can. Of course, you have to be able to read between the lines as the process unfolds too.

Some people ask me, “how do you know that this is the right thing for you?” I really don’t know how to answer this question; I just knew that I didn’t want to quit working at the time that I retired. I think there are a lot of people out there who feel that way. But this is why I stress how important it is to engage in the process of self-reflecting.

Let me give you an example: I went to a recent campus interview, and I knew from those meetings that the institution was not a good fit for me. I thought that one of the other candidates who was there was a great fit. I just knew he would be the right person for the job, and he was ultimately the one that the institution selected.

You have to be prepared to just dive right into these assignments. You can’t just sit back in your office. You can’t wait for people to come to you. You have to go out there and make time to meet with people; you have to be prepared to make yourself a part of the melting pot. It’s important to get yourself in front of the key decision makers on campus so that you can help to move your department—help to move the institution as a whole—forward.

Hench: What positive impact has this assignment—or any of your four assignments—had on you?

Tullos: We think of ourselves as being so seasoned, but that’s not fully true. I have a lot more to learn, but that’s one of the joys of going on these assignments. There are so many opportunities to learn new things. I very much enjoy getting to know the people involved; that’s one of my favorite things. Part of my life mission is mentoring young staff and helping people to get ahead in this business, and these interim assignments provide me with an opportunity to do that.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my current assignment is getting to know the woman that I report to, and many of the staff members within the department. It’s been very rewarding to visit with the staff and to learn about the successes that they’ve already accomplished, and then to also learn more about the goals and projects they want to accomplish moving forward.

These assignments have truly had a positive influence on me. I have learned so much, and I feel that I have grown as a person. It has kept me up to date on a lot of student affairs research, and to also learn how to do so many things better. That’s the goal, to better ourselves.

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