Their story begins at the University of Minnesota.
Carolinda Douglass – “I’m sort of from a lot of different places; we moved a lot when I was little,” she says – went to study human development with an emphasis in aging.
She’d “always been drawn to older adults,” she says. “It probably has to do with my maternal grandfather, Eugene Smith, who was a very loving, kind person, and one of the people I was most comfortable with in my life.”
Land of 10,000 Lakes native Ted Moen, meanwhile, was majoring in psychology with a minor in his true love of studio arts, which included drawing, painting and sculpture.
Predestined paths eventually crossed in the student co-op on campus, where they both lived while Douglass served as president and Moen as house manager.
Marrying June 20, 1987, the newlyweds left Minneapolis to build a life in other places, the last of which was NIU.
Now, a quarter-century after Douglass joined the College of Health and Human Sciences and nearly 14 years since Moen took what was initially an extra-help gig in the College of Education, the Huskie spouses and colleagues are retiring – together.
“As much as we have enjoyed our careers, particularly our time at NIU, there are so many more things we want do,” says Douglass, vice provost for Institutional Effectiveness.
“We just really want quality time with our family. We’re both relatively healthy, and we’re campers and hikers, so we want to do that. We want to travel. I do a lot of yoga and meditation,” she adds. “We want to volunteer. I want to volunteer with people in hospice, going back to some of my roots in volunteering with older adults.”
“It’s almost cliché and corny,” Moen adds, “but we basically want to spend our retirement giving back. We want to volunteer at national parks. We’ve been very fortunate.”
Fortunate is also a word most would use to describe the presence of the couple on campus.
Douglass, who came to NIU as an assistant professor in the fall of 1996, joined the administrative ranks in 2005 when she was named the university’s assessment coordinator.
Since then, she has played a crucial role in Program Prioritization, the years-long process that led to and followed NIU’s 2014 reaccreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, the 2009 baccalaureate review, the 2006 strategic planning task forces on student success and curricular innovation and two revisions of NIU mission, vision and values.
Her involvement often took place behind the scenes, where – as someone with a background in evaluation research and graduate degrees in public administration and policy analysis – she is most comfortable.
Accordingly, she is quick to give credit to her “fantastic and dedicated” collaborators, a long list that includes David Changnon, Mark Falkoff, John Kearsing, Greg Long, Doris Macdonald, Chad McEvoy, Shanthi Muthuswamy, Holly Nicholson, Jeff Reynolds and Ritu Subramony.
“I like to be the facilitator, and I think that’s worked well for me at NIU,” Douglass says. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities to run a lot of successful initiatives on behalf of the president and the provost.”
Her work in baccalaureate review, student success and curricular innovation helped to ensure that the university was matching coursework and programming with desired outcomes.
NIU became even more student-centered as a result, she says. “It really moved us out of the classroom toward understanding that we needed to help students be successful not just on an exam, an essay or a paper, but really in life.”
Program Prioritization, for which Douglass ran the Coordinating Team, came at an “unfortunate” time as it coincided with the state’s budget impasse that forced public universities to cut rather than grow.
“The idea was to really understand what the program portfolio was across the university so that we could best optimize that,” she says, “and for all the right reasons – access, cost, quality.”
Despite the circumstances in Springfield, she says that Program Prioritization “has had a positive impact on the university. It did make us more systematic. It created better data resources. It created greater opportunities for people to think more holistically, across the university, and hopefully plan more strategically as a result.”
The Higher Learning Commission’s self-study visit to DeKalb in March 2014, when Douglass was vice provost for Academic Planning and Development, resulted in the maximum 10-year reaccreditation. Douglass herself is now an HLC reviewer for other universities.
Revising the mission, vision and values occurred twice during her tenure, the first time in 2012 in preparation for the HLC visit and, most recently, in late 2018 and early 2019 after President Lisa Freeman assumed that role permanently.
“President Freeman really wanted to update and refresh that, so we got a group together,” Douglass says, adding that the work reflected her own commitment to the goals of inclusivity and transparency that include gathering campus-wide input and feedback.
Credit for that also goes to the top, she says.
“Most of these processes – not all, but most – I did under the direction of our now-President Freeman,” Douglass says, “and I think that she was unwilling to do anything that didn’t have those components. That really went well with my philosophy, because I think you have to have transparency and inclusiveness. I also think you have to have measurable outcomes, and you have to have evaluation.”
She also appreciates “how people at NIU just continue to step up to the plate and do what needs to be done. The most valuable asset we have at NIU is our people.”
“People sometimes aren’t always excited about things like compliance, assessment and accountability,” Douglass says, “but when they start to understand what those things can enable them to do – when they start to see the opportunities embedded in those types of processes – usually most people come around and say, ‘This is great. We have new opportunities.’ ”
Moen found his new opportunity with the College of Education’s Office of External and Global Programs.
It was the final destination along a road of various industries, companies and organizations.
When the couple moved to Los Angeles in the fall of 1987, following their three-month honeymoon of hiking and camping across the country, Douglass pursued graduate degrees at the University of Southern California.
Gerontology was a given: “I was drawn to people with dementia because they’re completely honest. They’re completely open. They may be scared or frightened, or think they’re a child, but what they are is completely authentic.”
Yet because her previous work in nursing homes had convinced her that she “probably could run some of these places, and maybe a little differently,” she simultaneously earned a master’s in public administration.
Her mentor in public policy, Fernando Torres-Gil, provided the inspiration to stay on that track.
Moen, meanwhile, worked in wire transfers at City National Bank, where he moved “millions of dollars all over the world,” often on behalf of famous movie stars and their film studios.
After they grew weary of the L.A. grind, the couple moved north to the Golden Gate City, where Moen took a job at the University of San Francisco while Douglass earned her Ph.D. in policy analysis from the Pardee RAND Graduate School.
Sons Nos. 1 and 2 were born there as well: Ben, now 27, recently married and moving to South Korea for a job at a university, and Ian, now 25 and a newly engaged marine biologist living in Seattle.
Becoming a mother made Douglass realize that she needed to return to the Midwest, where her own mother, Amy Douglass, was living in Wheaton. She soon had three job offers, one in Michigan, one in Ohio and one from Sherilyn Spear in DeKalb.
Moen, meanwhile, worked in programming at the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago and, later, for Itasca-based Fellowes Brands.
“I just got tired of the commute,” he says. “I was gone 13 hours a day, and we had three little kids at the time – some of them weren’t even in school yet – and I just said, ‘This is crazy.’ So I stayed at home for five years and took care of the kids. It was the best five years of my life.”
Once Ben, Ian and youngest son Noah, now 23 and a graduate of Drake University, all were in school, Moen started working as a teacher’s aide. And as a little more time passed for the three Dougen boys – their last name a combination of Douglass and Moen – their father decided to return to the workforce.
Terry Borg, director of the Office of External and Global Programs, had a job opening.
Within a few months of starting as extra help, Moen was hired full time as coordinator of credit programming. Later, he took on additional duties of infrastructure, planning and fiscal administration to broaden international learning, appreciate cultural diversity and exchange innovative ideas.
“I really love the energy of the students, the faculty and all of the people on a university campus. In private industry, you just don’t find that,” Moen says. “It’s just so invigorating. For lunch, you can go to a brown bag and learn something. What a great environment to be in!”
Although Moen didn’t expect to stay, he realized that he’d found the perfect fit.
“I loved working for Terry. I don’t think I’ve ever had a supervisor who I liked more. He is just so wonderful and supportive,” he says. “He’s the best guy I could have possibly found to work for, and I never left NIU because I liked him so much. He’s an amazingly knowledgeable person.”
Moen most enjoyed the operation’s international outreach, which brought him into contact with teachers and students from places that include Taiwan and Uruguay, as well as conferences such as the Social Justice Summer Camp.
“It just was really fun to get to know all those people,” says Moen, who last fall received NIU’s award for Outstanding Staff Contribution to International Education. “It really enriched the work experience.”
What will enrich their lives now is that “quality family time,” much of which is close to home: Amy Douglass lives with her daughter, son-in-law and grandson, Noah.
And while they will miss the campus and its people, they will cherish their time as Huskies.
“I have worked in hospitals and nursing homes, but what’s so great about working at NIU and other higher education institutions is that people are paid to think. We’re paid to think and to come up with ideas, and be creative, and be innovative,” Douglass says.
“So what I’ve learned, and what I’ve appreciated, throughout my 25-year career at NIU is just how great it is to have the opportunity to be lucky enough to work – to support yourself – doing something you love to do, which is to think, to implement ideas and to help students,” she adds. “Not everybody is that lucky, so I feel very fortunate – and to have NIU as the place for that.”