Six Questions with Karlyn Borysenko

Karlyn Borysenko, the Director of Social Media at Southern New Hampshire University, earned a Best in Track Red Stapler Award at HighEdWeb 2011 for her presentation, “What Colleges Can Learn from the Insane Clown Posse.”

Karlyn, “fascinated with the role that psychology plays in our working lives,” is pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology from Capella University.

1. Working at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) sounds like a high ed web pro’s Nirvana — your president even maintains his own blog and twitter feed.  Having worked at other institutions of higher ed, what elements are present in your work environment that sets it apart?

First and foremost, it’s the people. I’ve never worked for a school that has made as much of an investment in recruiting the very best people for the job, even if it means that they live in a completely different part of the country and commute in to Southern New Hampshire. I’m constantly in awe of how smart the people that I work with are–they push me to be better.

Then there’s the opportunity. It’s an environment that is full of endless opportunity as long as you take initiative. They invest in good ideas as long as you have the data to back it up. And they’re willing to take calculated risks. I’ve never worked in an environment that allows for this much creativity and innovation. The environment I work in is more like a start-up than a university, and it allows us to move very quickly and do really really cool things without having to get approval from any committee.

And I can’t say enough about President LeBlanc. You don’t often come across university leadership that do things simply because they are the right thing to do, and when so many colleges are interested in nothing more than upping their selectivity, at SNHU we get to measure our success by how many people we educate rather than how many people we deny admission to.

How do you see your doctoral work in Industrial/Organizational Psychology relating to  what you’re doing now, and to what you’d like to do going forward?

I became interested in I/O Psychology when I was working at Dartmouth a few years ago–they had a Director of Professional Development on staff and I worked with her extensively when I was having a difficult time with my boss there, and it really changed the way I thought about the work environment. I’ve always wanted to pursue doctoral work and I was really inspired by this experience to focus on I/O psych. Psychology in general is a really helpful thing to have an advanced understanding of, for marketing and for people in general. Although I’m sure the people I work with are going to laugh when they read this, it’s helped me to learn how to give people the benefit of the doubt and pick my battles more wisely (though when I do pick a battle, I go after it strongly!). What do I want to do with it going forward? Honestly, I’m not sure. I looked at it this way: my bachelor’s degree I did because I wanted to get a job, my MBA I did because I wanted to make more money. I wanted to do my Ph.D. on a subject I was genuinely interested in, for no other reason than a pure academic pursuit. The rest will work itself out.

image courtesy of Steve Keys @flickr

2.  How has being a student at Capella University, a for-profit university which conducts most of its courses online, changed your perception of “traditional” colleges/universities?  How has your experience learning at Capella impacted your approach to working at SNHU?

It hasn’t really changed my perception of “traditional” colleges because I did my MBA online through Norwich University when I worked there, so it’s not my first venture into online learning. I’ve had nothing but a great experience at Capella–I wasn’t pressured into anything at all like you hear with some of the for-profits, the classes, for the most part, have been great. I think people who never experienced online learning before would be shocked at how much work it is. Personally, I’ve found that I get so much more out of it than I did sitting in a traditional classroom. At SNHU, I primarily work for the online programs within the College of Continuing Education (COCE) so I would say having the experience of being a student at another online school has definitely enhanced my ability to market for SNHU–I understand first-hand what the concerns and needs of our students are.

3.  As part of your doctoral work, you wrote about narcissist bosses–leaders who are charismatic yet self-involved, lacking in empathy and thriving in chaos.  Do you think the organization dynamics found in higher ed attract or deflect these kinds of leaders?

It all depends on the college and, more importantly, on the leadership. I wouldn’t say that I could identify one instance of narcissists at SNHU–the people that are there came to work there because they believe in the mission of the school and of the President, are focused on doing good work, and are held accountable. I don’t think a narcissistic leader would survive in this environment. On the other hand, at every other job I’ve had, I’ve absolutely worked for a narcissistic leader. Sometimes organizations do recruit these types of people because they do tend to get results…but at the cost of employee morale and satisfaction. Perhaps that’s the difference. SNHU was named one of 2011’s best colleges to work for because they place a premium on employee job satisfaction. The other places I’ve worked for didn’t really seem to care if their employees were happy or not.

4.  In “Skywalkering It” you mentioned the importance of maintaining one’s own online identity, separate from the institution or company one works for.  Why do you think that’s important, and how closely aligned should the personal identity be to the professional role (if at all)? What benefits have you received from maintaining your online identity?

Well I don’t necessarily think they need to be completely separate, but you should never sacrifice your own personal brand for a company you work for. With SNHU, I feel completely comfortable being myself – blogging, tweeting, speaking, etc. and am ok with saying that I work for SNHU in all of my online profiles. With the job I had before SNHU, I didn’t even list the company I worked for publicly because the president of the company would call me at least once a month screaming at me for something that I said online. I couldn’t blog, I wasn’t allowed to speak at conferences, and I was even held responsible for what people said about me on Twitter. What I learned from that experience was that it wasn’t a sacrifice that I was ever willing to make again since I had worked so hard for years to build my brand online. I made sure that SNHU was aware of this and ok with it before I was ever even offered the job. So many people I know place a higher premium on being loyal to their organization than they are to themselves.

image courtesy of wheatfields@flickr

That is crazy — organizations, as a general rule, are not loyal to their employees. There are exceptions of course (and I like to think that SNHU is one of them), but you have to look out for number one first and foremost. If you have an established personal brand, that is what will get you that next job, but if you sacrifice that personal brand because your company wants you do, and then you find yourself out of a job, you’ll have nowhere to go.

5.  One of your friends described your work life as “kind of a bouncy road but [now at SNHU] you really are home.”  What advice would you give others who may be experiencing similar kinds of bumps in their career road?

Trust that everything happens for a reason, even if you can’t make any sense of it at the time. Everything leads to something out. I’ve learned something new at every job I’ve been at and, even if that job went sour, there were still valuable experiences to take from it. For example, my job at Dartmouth didn’t work out because my boss was crazy…but I got introduced to I/O Psychology at the same time. I lost my next job out of nowhere and for no apparent reason, and crashed into an “I’m not good enough” depression afterwards, but I had so many offers coming out of it because I stood by my convictions, and ended up in my absolute dream job working with the greatest group of people in the world. Even when times seem dark, look for the opportunities that you can pull from it and just stay positive that things will all work out just as they should.

  • Really encouraging story, Karlyn. Appreciate the honesty!

  • Anonymous

    Great stuff. Right on with #4!