Perhaps more than most people, Lori Sundberg knows how life-changing higher education can be. Last year, the 2003 St. Ambrose Doctor of Business Administration graduate was named president of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Ill.–the very place that redirected her career path as a first-generation college student in her 20s.
"Community colleges can come into our lives during a time of uncertainty," Sundberg says . "I think I may relate to the students that attend our institution because I was in many of their shoes years ago: working full time and going to school, and discovering new passions."
Sundberg first earned her degree in cosmetology at CSC, and ran her own salon, The Best Little Hair House in Galesburg, while returning to the college to finish general education courses toward a bachelor's degree. When she graduated a few years later from Knox College with a double major in economics and history, she was invited to return to Carl Sandburg to teach, an experience that solidified her love of learning.
"Higher education made sense to me," she says. "It was where I belonged."
Sundberg sold the salon in 1997 to take a position at CSC as its coordinator of institutional research, and would serve in capacities of increasing responsibility at the college ranging from dean to vice president, all while working toward her DBA degree at St. Ambrose.
Now, as president of her alma mater, Sundberg is determined to make sure the students who walk through the school's doors are equipped with the education and skills to beat the turbulent economic times the country continues to experience.
"It's one of the most stressful and challengng parts of the position, and the nature of the time we're living in," admits Sundberg, who has been dealing with dramatic cuts in state funding for community colleges. "Students need access to quality, affordable education. I see my job as ensuring that regardless of your age and background, if you want to go to college, you can."