Sara Holzberlein, Dean of the College of Creative Arts & Design, has held several different roles in her seven years at Emily Griffith Technical College, and she sees that as a benefit: “If I can learn many different avenues of the same thing, I can hopefully help to develop something that will be better for everyone.”
The process of moving positions every two years is a common practice in Japan where Holzberlein worked for 12 years at Nagasaki Junshin Catholic University. During her time in Japan, Holzberlein was able to hold a variety of different roles throughout the university, in addition to her professorship, which gave her insight into how different processes worked and how she could apply her skill set to different realms and create better processes. “You learn everyone else’s job and so there’s never a gap if someone leaves,”says Holzberlein. “ it’s a philosophy of how they run things.”
Sara didn’t initially expect to work in higher education. In college she studied broadcasting, and even spent some time at the Today Show. But in her last semester of college, she took a Human Geography course, which was an education course focused on the pull that geography and politics has on people’s lives in regard to their access to education and other resources.
“It was a really interesting class and I thought, why am I taking this now at the last hour of my degree,” says Holzberlein. “It just sat with me.”
She continued on to get her Master’s degree in communications, but she started thinking about how she could incorporate education into her future career. She decided that her goal was to become a curriculum developer for Sesame Street. While she was in graduate school, she taught courses as her undergraduate university and worked as a speech and debate coach.
As she was completing her graduate degree, she had the opportunity to go to Japan to work at a university as a curriculum developer. “I needed experience,” she decided, and so she went. During her time in Japan, she had the opportunity to build a variety of different educational programs, which she really enjoyed, so she decided to focus more and more on curriculum development.
When she returned to Denver to be closer to her family, she started working at a school that provided English language classes. Eventually, she decided she wanted to work specifically with refugees and immigrants, and came to Emily Griffith to work as the English Language Acquisition Program Supervisor.
She enjoyed the work and when the opportunity arose for a role as Associate Dean of the College of Health Sciences and Administration, she took it. “I see an opportunity to take what I know now to a different level,” says Holzberlein. “I’m able to bring my skill set to different departments and help connect the dots.”
Holzberlein took on the role of Dean for the College of Creative Arts and Design about two years ago. Her time as the Dean has been largely shaped by the pandemic. “I’m really proud of my faculty,” she says. “The pandemic has helped us to see the bigger picture more clearly, and most rewarding is seeing how our faculty has really risen to the occasion to change and adjust in order to stay open and maintain our programs.”She also highlights that the college has been able to build new partnerships in the midst of the pandemic. “For example, we have a new location for our Multimedia and Video Production program co-located with Rocky Mountain PBS at the brand new Community Media Center.”
As Holzberlein looks forward, she sees a bright future for Career and Technical Education (CTE) and the benefits of professional certificates and career training. “A lot of people are realizing that CTE is far more economical as an approach to finding a pathway, but it’s also a better way of life planning,” she says. “It is a more logical pathway in many ways for many careers.”
Universities are starting to take notice and considering how to incorporate professional certificates into their curriculum. “I think people are starting to see CTE as a valuable first step for students,” says Holzberlein. “And then maybe go back to university after gaining a skill set.”
“I really hope to see us build partnerships right now, moreso so that we’re not in a competition with four-year colleges,” says Holzberlein. “Where we’re working closely together. I hope that the system starts to see it more as a collegial relationship, rather than a competition.”
It may sound cliche, but Holzberlein says that she has felt successful in her role for a very simple reason: “When you are done at the end of the day, how do you feel about what you’ve accomplished? I know I made a difference someplace. In this job, there are times when I can pinpoint exactly how I’ve been able to make a difference.”