The thread running through Natalie Gibson’s (MPA ‘98) career focuses on organizational development in emerging education policy issues such as the achievement gap and student success. “I am always drawn to positions that allow me to focus on strategic planning, budgeting, and capacity building,” she says. Today, Natalie serves as the System Director of Cultural Diversity for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS). In that role, Natalie provides leadership, support and service in two domains: diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as strategic enrollment management, engaging with “approximately 10,000 part-time and full-time faculty and staff at 16 colleges to insure the access and the success of approximately 80,000 students, especially those from traditionally underserved backgrounds.” She finds purpose in this role, because community colleges provide so much to so many—“These opportunities transform lives by helping [students] gain an education that increases the likelihood of gainful employment,” she explains.
While inclusion in postsecondary education may seem very nebulous to the layperson, for Natalie, there is a focus on concrete strategic goals and objectives. She supervises System Office staff, leads two functional peer teams and other working groups, as well as working directly with the KCTCS Cabinet and President’s Leadership Team. She’s implemented new initiatives, including the Diversity Capacity Building Program, a KCTCS Diversity Dashboard, and Super Someday, which is a state-wide program that provides African-American and Latino students pre-collegiate academic enrichment opportunities as well as access to information and resources to improve college attendance. As the system-level subject matter expert for recruitment and retention efforts, she has reason to celebrate! After 8 semesters of enrollment declines, KCTCS colleges implemented their final strategic enrollment management plans and student enrollments for the system steadied in the fall of 2016.
“I really enjoy collaborating with groups of faculty and staff from our colleges and the system office to identify solutions and build capacity to increase student success,” she says. However, that can be challenging. One of the many hats Natalie wears is that of a change manager— which is particularly difficult in an age of constrained budgets. “It is so easy to defer to places of comfort and familiarity in times of stress,” she explains. Her Master’s program helped her to develop the skillset needed to handle such dynamic and politically-charged waters.
Natalie is no stranger to a challenge, though. After completing her MPA, she worked for the University of Kentucky as the Chief Administrative Officer for the Southeast Center for Agricultural Health and Safety Program (SCAHIP), which sought to prevent agriculture worker injury and illness. As the CAO, Natalie was instrumental in attaining around $9 million in federal grant funding for the Center’s work.
In her spare time, Natalie loves spending time with her family and pursuing her favorite hobbies—traveling, shoe shopping, reading, and watching movies. We are proud to call Natalie a member of the Martin School family, and we know she will continue to make a positive impact on her community!