The Interview USA
Oakland Community College
Vice Chancellor for Student Services

Kimberly Hurns

A lot of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and cultural competency work focuses on creating individual relationships and making changes to the lives of individual students. While this makes a difference, student success as a whole needs to mean success for all students, and therefore DEI work must increase completion and success rates for the institution at large.

Kimberly Hurns, Vice Chancellor for Student Services at Oakland Community College, sat down with Kitty Hadaway, GoodCourse Universities Lead, to speak about how she has incorporated larger, more inclusive initiatives into her role in Student Success.

Kimberly's Journey

Kitty: Can we begin with an introduction to yourself and the institution?

Oakland is in southeastern Michigan, and I've been here for under a year, switching from an institution I worked with for nearly 20 years. I moved up in Higher Education (HE) through the ranks of academics, beginning in business and becoming a dean and chief academic officer. Here, I oversee student services; previously, I had done student success work, and working so closely with student services in that work gave me a broader view and made my transition to student services smoother. It has been a wonderful learning experience on the whole.

Kitty: How did you find this transition into a Vice Chancellor role? How has your prior experience come into your current work?

The current Provost here has been extremely supportive. We know there is a lot of change going on and a lot of opportunity to grow in this post-Covid competitive landscape of HE. We have formed a partnership over that and worked together very closely.

When I first arrived here, I did a lot of listening; surveys of student services, listening sessions, and hearing staff’s needs and thoughts. I was very transparent about why I believed I was hired in regard to what the Chancellor was looking for and what the school needed. In my view, this was improving service levels and becoming more efficient from an operational standpoint. Having open conversations with the staff and continuing to do that has been a huge part of my transition into this role.

Kitty: How has your approach to Student Affairs evolved over your career?

The main part here is that coming from a classroom, I always saw my contribution as my relationship with individual students, which is very rewarding work. But as I moved up and into Student Services, the piece that has evolved has been making those individual relationships add up. This comes from practices and policies leading to students getting that amazing experience that only 20% might get one on one. It’s about centralizing and sharing efforts and strategies that ensure all students have a great student experience that gets them to completion. This is challenging because a lot of our work is individualized as HE professionals, and professionals take great pride in those relationships with students. But what I want people to see is how we can adopt strategies that contribute to the whole and move more students to completion. 

Even the lens of cultural competency is about this. A lot of DEI work feels good and looks good, but is it increasing completion? Is it increasing success rates? Is it closing equity gaps?  

Kitty: In 2019, you were awarded Crain’s Notable Women in Education Leadership award. Can you tell me about some of the work that went into achieving that?

It was student success work. Once I became passionate about the numbers and getting students to completion, I think that made me a good fit for this award. But leading in that way, in the areas I led, was really empowering because we all got to think about how we contributed to changing this graduation rate.

My leadership style allowed me to move my team forward as well, towards what student success had the potential to look like, and this took good strong strategy execution. I believe that fed into my receiving that award — my passion and our execution. 

Kitty: What has been your approach to cultural competency?

It's a matter of humility first and foremost. It’s understanding that all of us have different backgrounds and lived experiences, and in recent years I have become more open about sharing what my life experiences are like as a mother, as a professional, and everything else. I don't mean this from a negative standpoint, it’s just that oftentimes people are not aware of the experiences of others. 

I’m a first-gen college student, and I have learned to speak about that a lot more and what that experience felt like. Experiencing first-hand the difference between my own experience and my own kids’ college experience is so eye-opening. We need to provide support for students that do not have it at home because we serve a lot of first-gen students, so empathy is huge.

We need to provide support for students that do not have it at home because we serve a lot of first-gen students, so empathy is huge.

It's also helping folks understand that equity is not equality. When we say we will meet students where they are, that isn't about equality for all students. Each student needs something different, and we need to move away from that mentality of fairness and giving everyone the same. It’s focusing on what that individual student needs, and we need to train people that way.

Kitty: How do you approach freedom of speech in your work?

Going into Covid, I had a lot of conversations about this with staff. It was our opportunity to teach students how to deal with facts. So I was doing this in preparation for the 2020 election; what do you do when you have difficult conversations in your classroom? The answer is: you bring it back to the facts. As educators, we have this opportunity to instil this in young people. There is freedom in facts, but we must differentiate between facts and opinions.

Then there is the element that some facts will make you uncomfortable when you disagree with them, but the freedom still has to be there. So I'm talking about how we facilitate learning based on fact, and it’s powerful to think that we can stand on facts that are not up for debate. When you focus on that, we are kept at a point where we are always educating. It is not our job to teach students our opinions. We can state opinions but that is different from a fact. This also sets a framework for a safe space.

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Kitty Hadaway
Universities Lead
Kitty is passionate about using technology to create safer and more inclusive campuses, and is an expert on student engagement and delivering training at scale. Get in touch at to learn more.

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