One-on-one with Laura Doering, ISU’s new registrar

Aimee Burch

Laura Doering has big shoes to fill. Come July 1, she will take the reins as Iowa State’s new registrar. She takes the helm from Kathy Jones, who after 40 years at Iowa State will soon embark on retirement. Doering recently sat down with the Daily to discuss this change, what she hopes to accomplish and her favorite ISU memories.

What were you doing when you found out you were going to be the new registrar?

Well, actually, I was working. I was at my desk and Dr. [Tom] Hill, who is our vice president for student affairs, gave me a phone call, and we had a preliminary conversation. And then later that evening, I was at swim practice with my daughters, who are 12 and 9, and I stepped away from swim practice and accepted the offer at that time.

I’m just really excited to be able to serve Iowa State in this new role.

What are some thoughts on the job? Goals you have or thoughts on moving up?

First of all, I need to give a shoutout to Kathy Jones, who is our current university registrar and also serving as associate vice president for Student Affairs. Kathy has been at the university for 40 years … in one office at one university. Kathy started out in the records area as a records staff member and then moved up to assistant registrar, associate and then eventually registrar. She really made her career at Iowa State in the registrar’s office. It’s been a very impressive career.

I’m blessed that she is going to continue as associate vice president for several months now. I think she’s looking to retire in September, but I’m going to learn from her. I’ve been learning from her for 15 years. She’s been my mentor. I’ve had the opportunity to go from assistant registrar to associate registrar to senior associate registrar, so registrar is a nice next step for me. But still, I’ve not been the department head. That’s been Kathy. So having the opportunity to have her here, continuing in that mentorship role, in that teacher role will be huge. One of my goals is to continue to learn from her, certainly to transition.

I’ve been the senior associate; that means letting go of some of those duties. I’ve also been the director of transfer relations, so I’ve been in a dual appointment in the registrar’s office and the admissions office, so part of the transition is really redefining my role, and what will be my role with transfer relations. I won’t oversee transfer recruitment anymore, that’s an admissions function. But a lot of registrars have some role…with transfer relations. That’s a very academic side of the house with admissions.

So part of it is defining what is going to be my role because I come from into that role not as somebody external, but as somebody internal with an existing set of responsibilities. So it’s really what of those do I keep, because a lot of it needs to go somewhere else. One of my first very important goals is to find a replacement. I need to hire an associate registrar. That needs to be a strong hire, someone with leadership in the office as well.

One goal I know I have, and I talked a lot about it in my interview, is in the office of the registrar we have a lot of experienced staff. That being said, with that experience comes age. We have an aging staff and really taking a look at key positions, cross-training and succession planning.

One of my top responsibilities will be the succession plan. I need to position this office well for the future. We’ve served faculty and students, I think very well in the past, and it’s going to be critical that we have good hires, good cross-training. We’re bringing some of our less experienced staff with us, so bringing newer staff along, new hires when vacancies occur. We just need to be positioned to serve the campus community in the future.

I’m very excited about systems. Students, this is their universe. [Holds up a cell phone] You want to be able to do your business on your phone. I’m excited about the kinds of applications. We have great applications on AccessPlus; what might be some of the apps of the future coming out of the registrar’s office? So that’s exciting, just looking at new technologies and making business easier for students so they can get down to the business of learning. We want to make their transactional business convenient. Serving students encompasses a lot. Technology is one of them, friendly service, going that extra mile.

I do think serving students has been one of my trademarks. I’ve had the opportunity to work here at the very early development stages to develop Iowa State’s learning communities initiative, so that is probably one of my greatest contributions. I just feel really good about the learning communities initiative as it relates to students being retained at a higher rate, performing at a higher rate and connecting at a higher rate. It’s been a very good thing for Iowa State, and it’s one of the very first things I did as assistant registrar, and I continue to look for opportunities with other student affairs units and the academic side of the house on student retention and student success initiatives. Thinking about technologies, services, partnerships… I think those really define the Office of the Registrar in the future.

I have such a talented staff that I’m really excited to really dig in and be able to provide leadership in a new way. I’ve certainly been one of the senior staff in the office but I’m really looking forward to providing that leadership.

I have a very collaborative style. One of the things that I am looking to do is that I want to have a student advisory board. I would very much like to have a group of students that I can meet with and hear from on a regular basis as to how are our services — are we meeting your needs? I think it’s students that will really help inform some of our systems or technology priorities. Our student information system is older and is a homegrown legacy system. There will be a time when Iowa State needs to be looking at its student information system capabilities and that would be a very big project sort of exploring the future of our student information system.

Why do you do what you do? What motivates you to take on this new job and stay here at Iowa State?

Oh wow, well, let’s start with the fact that I’m a Cyclone. My graduate work is at Iowa State, so I’m a Cyclone. It’s my alma mater, number one. I love Iowa, I love Iowa State. I think the Midwest is a great place to raise your family and the whole bit. Probably what really motivates me to stay here is… As long as I am able to be in a position where I can contribute, then I’m happy. I need to be able to contribute, and I do believe here at Iowa State in the registrar’s office and in the position of registrar, I can make a difference in the lives of students. 

That’s what motivated me, first and foremost, to apply for the registrar’s position. You know, I didn’t take that application lightly. It wasn’t like, “OK, I’m the senior associate registrar. It’s the next thing, and I need to go do it.” I didn’t take it lightly. I spent a lot of time thinking about, can I be the best thing for this office? 

Through reflection and conversations with colleagues and others, I really felt like, yes, this is the right time for me to try and do this. I think it’s more the service side. I’m service-minded, and I have a great, experienced staff. I’m not in this alone, and that’s huge. I have great colleagues at the university. It’s one of the reasons I love working at Iowa State. It’s a rich environment from a people-resource standpoint, such good people here. It’s just such a privilege to continue to serve at a different level and be able to stay at Iowa State.

What are some of your favorite ISU memories?

Our learning community conference in Miami with my colleagues from across campus. It was a really great mix of student affairs and faculty. There were administrators, student affairs professionals, faculty, and we all convened in Miami for this national conference. This is a group that served as a think tank for how do we really make learning communities work at Iowa State. I love a conference that you go to where you really work with your team, and you come back and really put to work what you learn, and it really results in student success.

As a student, it was passing my orals. The minute I passed my orals I was able to become the associate registrar. There was a vacancy, and it was one of those moments where I was in waiting, associate in waiting. So passing my orals and being promoted to associate registrar is a good way to put that, another good highlight.

Veishea is always a highlight. I always enjoy Veishea, from actually seeing my five-year-old sitting in animal pens to being at the parade or working the late night pancake feed. I’ve been there on the student side, the parent side and the employee side of Veishea, so it’s been kind of fun to do Veishea in all three roles.

As far as other highlights go, another one would probably be just this fall semester start. We were record enrollment, and it was as smooth of a semester as I’ve ever had. That’s a highlight when you can bring a record number of students here. The classes were there; it got started well, and it was just a seamless start this fall. We also had record enrollment for transfer students this fall, so that was also exciting.

I love June. Orientation is so exciting. All these new students and their families on campus and just being able to engage in that newness. I love orientation and Destination Iowa State, which is kind of the back end of orientation. So you have orientation in June as a new student; then you arrive on campus the Thursday before classes start, and you have the three days of Destination Iowa State, and that’s just a great experience. The energy in Hilton that night is just amazing. It’s the first time the entire class is under one roof until again at commencement. To see them at the start, and then at the end is just a neat environment.

I also love coordinating commencement. It’s a highlight for students and the culmination of their work. It’s fun to admit them to Iowa State and then see them graduate.

What are some favorite things you have done?

I love watching my girls in their sports and writing stories with them. I have little writers and swimmers. One of them swims and plays soccer and the other just swims. So spending time as a family. We go camping, but I don’t know if that’s a favorite. [Laughs] I love the campfire, but I love to go home in the morning and shower. I’m not a roughing-it kind of person. I’m a walker, a reader, a sailer and a mom. I mostly love spending time with my kids. They’re really fun and just bright, happy kids.

Is there anything else you would really like students to know?

I think it’s important that students understand the Office of the Registrar resides in student affairs. As such, we are a student service office. I am very interested in hearing from students if we are meeting their needs in regards to registration, student information, grades, midterms, transcripts, just the services we provide in general, [such as] graduation, the degree audit. We just finished a survey on the degree audit, and we’re going to use that information to hopefully improve upon the audit based on what students are telling us. We very much want to hear from students.