Gatepost Interview: Ann McDonald Chief of staff, general counsel, secretary to the Board of Trustees

(Mt. Wachusett Community College)

What is your educational and professional background?

I did my undergraduate at Westfield State University – which was then Westfield State College – and my undergraduate was in early childhood education. Then, I did my master’s degree at UMass Amherst in higher education administration. Finally, I did my law degree at New England Law in Boston. After I got out of my undergraduate, I worked for a short time in the private sector for job development, because there were not a lot of teaching jobs when I came out. I worked with women who were coming off of public assistance and entering the work force and coached them on good work habits and budgeting – all the kinds of things that they needed to transition into work. After doing that for a couple of years, there was a job developer position at Mount Wachusett Community College in the Cooperative Education and Career Planning Department, so I moved there. That’s where I spent the next 31 years – not in that position all those years – by the time I left I was executive vice president.

What led you to FSU?

One: My college was experiencing a lot of new changes – we had a new president at Mount Wachusett, which I think got me looking at other opportunities. Two: Framingham State University is public higher ed – my background, except for my law degree, has really been all in public higher ed and I really have both a commitment and a passion for public higher education. I feel like when the states invest in their own citizens, and for the most part students stay in the commonwealth and give back to that, I think that’s just a great opportunity for a student who might not otherwise look at a college because of cost. Although costs are not low, they are not anywhere near the private college education costs – for me, that was a point of access. My mom was a single parent, my dad passed away when I was very young and I had two brothers, so we all went to public institutions. I really believe that public higher ed gives students those opportunities, and I want to be a part of how that progresses. This position was of interest because a lot of my work touched a lot of areas, so I didn’t serve as general counsel at Mount Wachusett, but I did a lot of the legal work on campus. The chief of staff area of this position on campus means I’m working with the vice president and others, which was really attractive to me. Also, once I got a feel for Framingham and met some of the folks that were associated with it, I was amazed and still am every day by the kind of community that Framingham State is. I could not have chosen better – I have been in the system for 30 years and have never felt a stronger sense of community than I do here.

Do you find any difference working at a four-year school versus a community college?

I do, but there are also similarities. The difference is the residence life because the community colleges are non-residential – students are there during the day and for the most part, they go home. Here, students find this as their home, or at least for the short term, which I think adds to the environment in a way that’s palpable. I think the other part is the organization, because it’s bigger, has a larger faculty and graduate education. Yet, there are some things that the community college was doing that Framingham State is just starting to work with, such as the K-12 program and working with public schools. I am thankful that I can offer some perspective on that since [Wachusett] has been doing it for years. In general, it’s just a more complex organization.

What do you hope to accomplish in your new role?

I know that Rita Colucci was respected and well-liked on campus. I think that her input – having met her – that she was able to offer a steady hand on the legality of certain things. Frankly, I’d like to continue that and add to her legacy, because it’s great to walk in behind somebody who is doing a terrific job. I’d like to always be responsive to the needs of the University, because I think we need to be willing to work with folks. We cannot have compliance or the law stop progress on campus. Sometimes, you can’t just launch off and do things the way you want to because you may have to conform to an outside policy. So, to the extent that I can be a good support for others that are on campus trying to do those things, that’s really what I want – to be a good partner.

Do you have any advice for students?

College is this time in your life – no matter how old you are – where you get to explore and figure out who you are. I think that students should really take every opportunity and try things to find out what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. You’ll begin to figure out who you are. I think that’s the biggest change a student can anticipate from the time they walk through the door to the time they leave – a better sense of self. We all can fall into ruts – do the same thing, hang with the same people, eat the same foods – but trying things helps you experience things to find out what you like and don’t like. When I was an education major, back then, we had no credits for electives. In my final semester I had one-and-a-half courses left, so I fit in a fitness requirement – racquetball. I had never played it before and I loved it and played it for the rest of my life. It was a silly elective that I needed to satisfy a credit. You have to be willing to try things because you just don’t know how it will alter your life.