I started out life as an academic. After earning my Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration, I started work first as a academic advisor and later as a registrar, all with the goal of helping students have the same sort of life-changing experience that I had in college. But just when it appeared my university career had hit a stand-still, I began freelance writing. Within two years of starting to freelance for extra income, I was earning enough—primarily from writing about higher education trends and technology—to quit my day job.
When I left higher ed, I did so with just one regret: I would never become a dean or department chair. It seemed simultaneously like a good trade and like a box on the to-do list left unchecked. However, I put that aside as I grew my business to include medical writing, marketing copywriting, and professional speaking.
Some years later, I was also teaching on a part-time, adjunct basis at the School of Advertising Art (SAA), a hidden little gem of a college in Kettering, Ohio, specializing in training graphic designers for the marketing and advertising fields. They were in need of a director of education and academic dean, and they approached me with the position. The hours would be flexible enough to allow me to continue to run my writing business, and I would be in charge of the entire non–art-related segment of the curriculum. I wasn’t looking for an academic job, but the Cosmic Voice in my head (who was obviously influenced by Star Trek reruns), said, “They’re pulling out the big chair for you; all you have to do is sit down.” Just like that, I had reached my higher ed career goal.
I wanted to do my job “right,” so I thought back to every dean and department chair I had known or worked with, with a goal of emulating the best behaviors and avoiding the worst. I swore I would always give advice that was in my judgment the best for the institution, even if it would put me personally at a disadvantage. I would make myself as available as I could to my students, and I would admit immediately if I had made a misstatement. I would try to balance setting high standards for my faculty members with giving them the tools they needed and leaving them free to run their classes. Largely, I think I was successful.
Along the way, I learned so much at SAA. I gained an appreciation of the work of graphic designers and how essential they are to the marketing process. I honed my ability to work with designers as a copywriter, and I learned to better anticipate their needs if I am the creative lead on a project.
I saw a small college grow under new leadership and take on the challenges of switching from quarters to semesters while planning for future program growth. I saw instructors’ satisfaction at raising the academic bar and helping students meet it. I watched students who never expected to go to college earn their degree. I signed my name on diplomas above the title Academic Dean, and I cried harder at these graduations than I ever did at my own.
And then it was time to move on. My writing—my legacy—called me back, and I am returning to it full time. Just as I knew to take three years’ time to be director of education, I knew that I had completed the work I wanted to do before returning full attention to writing. As a sign, when I was emailing Dragonfly president Samantha Enslen about my increased availability, she was emailing me about an exciting and challenging medical writing project. Our emails crossed in cyberspace, and I knew I was on the right course for my future. The Cosmic Voice concurred with more Trek affirmation: “Second star to the right, and straight on ’til morning.”
Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti is an experienced writer specializing in science and medical writing, market research and industry reports, business and technology coverage, K–12 and higher education coverage, and corporate communications.