Glena Temple’s new office isn’t quite there yet. The bookshelf behind her corner desk, as well as the one near the entrance door, is lined with only a few rows of books and a couple small potted plants. The conference table and coffee table, which are surrounded by chairs and positioned at opposite ends of the room, are rather bare and untouched. And there are a handful of boxes sprawled across Temple’s desk waiting to be unpacked.
Temple, who officially began her role as Dominican University’s president Aug. 2, is still working on making herself at home. Although one can say she may have already done that. Temple, who among many things is a scholar in botany and plant science, carved her office out of a room inside Parmer Hall, the university’s newer science building, instead of moving into her predecessor’s office tucked in Lewis Memorial Hall.
Temple’s space is bright, airy and modern, while former president Donna Carroll’s office aligned with the building’s Gothic architecture, featured dark red walls and was adorned with ornate religious items and wooden furniture.
For Temple, she had always viewed roles in higher education as a calling. The New York native had spent the last 20 years at Viterbo University in Wisconsin, including the last four as president, and she felt her “window in which you can make an influence with your gifts” had closed and felt good about her work there. In some ways, it was time to take another step in her journey, Temple said.
“If you look at it as a job, the hours and the work can be a lot,” Temple said of working in higher education. “But I love going to the athletic games of students or fine arts performances or the art shows or research presentations, and that doesn’t really feel like work. That feels like a celebration of a community I care about – and that’s what makes this job great.”
As Temple cozied up to her chair by the conference table, she opened up about what drew her to make the move and apply for the position of president at Dominican. Last October, Carroll, who had dedicated nearly three decades of her career as the university’s leader, announced her retirement, and when Temple heard the news, her ears perked up.
“I wasn’t actively on the job market,” Temple said, adding someone had nominated her to take on the role. “It was just the job – and this place – that I felt like I couldn’t not explore.”
Dominican University carried out an extensive search for Carroll’s successor, according to a press release issued by the university in May. The search committee – which was made up of 15 members and included the university’s board of trustees, faculty, alumni, students and Dominican sisters – interviewed several candidates over the course of seven months before they unanimously selected Temple, the release stated.
Temple said she eyed Dominican because of its strong commitment to academic excellence and to help students and staff embrace their best selves and reach their successes. Over the years, Dominican has worked to cultivate a mission of diversity and inclusion, including becoming a sanctuary campus for students and staff who are undocumented, offering a wide range of services. The River Forest university has also sought to provide more wraparound resources, especially for its first-generation college students and graduates, an experience that resonates with Temple.
Temple is a first-generation college graduate and knows firsthand the pressures that many other students face in that particular position. It all piles up: Navigating schoolwork, worrying about how to pay for school and building a career are just some of the barriers that students face, she said.
Temple recalled failing calculus as a freshman at Allegheny College and thought, “‘Well, I can’t do this. I shouldn’t be a scientist.’”
“I was a very shy and young first-year college student,” she said, “and I didn’t know how to ask for help, and I didn’t know where to go.”
Temple said she didn’t know how to “access the tools” that would help her, and she was also embarrassed to find them. “A lot of my passion has been making it so that students don’t have to ask for help and offer [resources] to try and take some of that ‘transition energy’ away,” she said, adding it’s crucial to ask, “How do you reduce the hurdle and make it seem seamless and make it seem like a positive thing to achieve those goals?”
As Temple reflected more on her years in school, she talked about one mentor who introduced her to a career in education. As an undergrad, Temple said her goal was to end up in medical school but that blip in calculus “shook” her, but a mentor helped her score a research project, which included a service component. Temple said that service component led to a stint in teaching science at a local elementary school.
“I found that I really liked research, and I really liked trying to explain science and the energy that comes from being around people,” she said. “And those two pieces were critical in me finding my path.”
From there, Temple continued to build her future and herself back up. Over the years, she had held several different leadership and faculty positions at various colleges and universities in Wisconsin, Minnesota and California.
Among her many roles at Viterbo, Temple was chair of the biology department, coordinator of the natural sciences division, co-director of the honors program, dean of the School of Letters and Sciences and vice president for academic affairs before becoming president in 2017, according to the May press release issued by Dominican.
As Temple continues to settle in at Dominican, she expressed gratitude in being named the president of the university, but her title, though a privilege to have, does not define her as a person.
“There’s times that I need to be ‘Glena the President,’ the ‘ceremonial,’ the ‘make the hard decision,’ but I want to be one with the community and the students as Glena,” she said.
Temple said there’s a side of her that most people will come to know. She’s an introvert, who “geek[s] out” over data and also finds the sight of spreadsheets relaxing. She likes to garden and carve out time in her schedule to pray, so passerby may see her by the Grotto on campus. She’s a reader and the first to say that she’s “boring outside of her work.”
“It’s a hard job,” Temple said of being a university president. “If you can’t do it as your authentic self, you’re not going to succeed in the role.”
“The authentic self, Glena, is more laid back, approachable, relaxed,” she said. “I’ve learned I just have to own that to be effective in the role. A place like Dominican, we’re pretty lean, and we really care about the community. … We lean into the work that needs to be done.”