Growing up in Parkersburg, W.V., Adrienne King could see her future everywhere she looked.
“My mother was a college professor. She taught at the community college, and when she didn’t have a sitter, she would take my sister and me in the evenings to her night class, and we would sit in the back of her class while she taught,” says King, vice president of Marketing and Communications at the University of Toledo.
“She taught marketing and business, and so it’s no surprise that I ended up in marketing. My sister is also in marketing research,” King adds. “It got instilled in us young, and I’ve just always known that I’m a creative person. I like to think that I’m a pretty good storyteller. It felt like a good fit.”
Working in higher education also made sense.
“Having grown up in that arena, I was very lucky to have been raised in a family where college wasn’t really an option: It was an expectation. My mom used to say that the only thing you’ll ever really own in this world is your education. It’s the only thing that somebody can’t ever take back, and she was a big advocate for that,” King says.
“I believe in what we do and the opportunities it affords our students,” she adds, “and I’m grateful to feel like I’m making a difference.”
King is now taking the next step in broadening her impact.
The recipient of a 2021-22 American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow, she will spend the 2021-22 academic year at NIU listening, learning and spreading her wings along with her portfolio, all with the goal of benefiting the University of Toledo as well as her own career.
Established in 1965, the ACE Fellows Program is designed to strengthen institutional and leadership capacity in American higher education by identifying and preparing faculty and staff for senior positions in college and university administration.
Fifty-two Fellows, nominated by the senior administration of their institutions, comprise the 2021-22 cohort on campuses across the nation.
Nearly 2,000 higher education leaders have participated in the ACE Fellows Program over the past five decades – NIU President Dr. Lisa Freeman included – with more than 80% of them having served as senior leaders of colleges and universities.
Already situated in Altgeld Hall, where she will complete her fellowship in three-week stints while returning home in between to manage her team and responsibilities in Toledo, King is excited to begin.
Her year-long, application-and-interview process – “definitely one of the most rigorous things I’ve done in my career” – plowed into the brick wall called COVID-19, delaying her term of service until this fall but failing to dampen her enthusiasm.
“Really, I hope to be a sponge. I hope to learn as much as I possibly can through observation and just conversation,” she says.
“Higher education is a very complex industry, and I want to learn more about the overall academic enterprise. I want to learn about strategic planning and prioritization, faculty relations, curriculum development, DEI and facility management,” she adds.
“I just want to have a more in-depth knowledge, and whether it ultimately ends up in a career path to the presidency or not, this is going to make me much better at my job because I will appreciate and understand the complexity of the different components of an institution and what my colleagues are trying to achieve.”
King joined Toledo in 2019, coming to the Mid-American Conference school from Murray State University, where she had served as vice president of University Advancement.
She holds an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and an M.S. in Integrated Marketing Communications, both from West Virginia University, and earned her bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design, Advertising/Public Relations from Marietta College.
Toledo appealed to King as a comprehensive research university with stories of innovation and a college of medicine. The city itself nurtures a thriving, supportive, creative and inclusive arts community, another plus for King, who dabbles in painting.
NIU – the choice of schools where she could serve her ACE Fellowship was hers – appealed to her for the opportunity to engage with 2004-05 Fellow President Freeman, who earned the recommendation and endorsement of King’s current and former presidents.
“I really was looking for a placement with president who had also gone through the Fellows program – who really understood the value of the program – and that’s how I found Lisa Freeman. I interviewed at three institutions, and I just felt like I could learn so much from her,” King says.
“Dr. Freeman’s got a very different leadership style than I do,” she adds. “Right at the forefront, she was saying to me, ‘Listen, you also need to spend time with the provost. You need to spend time with the CFO.’ She has great ideas in addition to what I was hoping to learn.”
King’s choice also reflects well on NIU, says Sherri Lind Hughes, director of the ACE Fellows Program and a 2002-03 Fellow.
“Selection as a host institution is a sign of the outstanding reputation and commitment to excellence at the university,” Hughes says. “An ACE Fellow chooses an institution not only for its rigorous academic environment, high-quality efforts to educate students, but also its strong desire to invest in the future of higher education senior leadership as well.”
The Fellowship also calls for King to complete a project that she and Freeman are currently discussing as they determine its topic and shape “well outside of my comfort zone,” King says. “President Freeman and I have discussed that any project involves a critical need for good communications, so I hope that that’s a skill I can bring to that.”
Fellows also attend several professional development programs and small-group meetings throughout their year, creating case studies that cover “everything under the sun,” King says, including budgeting, campus policing, diversity/equity/inclusion, infrastructure and more.
“I’m learning just how much I have to learn,” she says. “This is an incredible opportunity, and everybody here has been so warm and welcoming.”