2020 has tested the resolve of the most optimistic among us. While it is true that disruption also brings opportunity for growth and change, it doesn’t always feel like that in the moment. I think about this tension as I reflect on 10 years of rpk GROUP’s history. Launching rpk was a huge leap of faith, and there were certainly times as a husband, father and future employer that I wondered if I had made the right choice. Challenges continued over the years as we took on more employees, tackled bigger projects and used our voice to highlight the need for a sustainable business model in higher education.
Faith and courage helped us through those challenges. But what I recall most was the fact that we were never alone, that we had a community around us that provided wisdom and encouragement. So this post celebrates the countless individuals and institutions that have supported us in this decade of distinction. While it is hard to focus on just a few of those contributors, here are ten that have stood out in our journey:
- The School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) – The SSNDs started Notre Dame in the late 1800’s, and I had the pleasure of serving there as CFO for 12 years. So much of their wisdom stays with me today. Sisters would note the need to “trust, but verify;” a good reminder that success moves at the speed of trust, but that we need to create accountability and transparency in our work together. Most importantly, the SSNDs show daily what it means to live a life of service.
- The rpk Team – What would rpk be without our team members? In fact, our team truly is Since 2010, we have grown from our first employee (yes, you Lisa!) to a size and depth of experience I never imagined. Every day, I wake up thankful for each team member’s service, their attention to detail and all the ways they make rpk both look good and (most importantly) impact the lives of students, educators, and communities across America and the world.
- The Philanthropic Community – The foundation world has been a driving force toward powerful systemic change and it has also built rpk’s capacity from our launch through to today. That support has helped us to research what’s working in higher education, raise up best practices and share that knowledge out with the world. Lumina, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Ascendium, College Futures Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA)—it’s a long of list of funders who enable our work.
- Media – In the current moment, it is so crystal clear that we need a strong press. Higher education editors and journalists have been essential to teaching our team and shining a light on what’s important. Our partners have, in turn, helped us to amplify our voice for the good of the field. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, The Hechinger Report, The Atlantic, and Forbes have all enabled us to reach broader audiences than we previously thought possible.
- Partners – At rpk, we are never alone in our work. Our amazing universe of partners has filled in with needed skills and experience, helping us to serve our clients more strongly. KnowledgeWorks, RAMSA, Teibel, SRI, ABC Insights, Founders Marketing, WestEd, Redstone, Hartman, Finn, ASA Research, Penn Cannon, and Ithaka, to name just a few. Your collegiality and expertise have played an integral part in our growth and development.
- Support Team – Just as there would be no rpk without the talented team members who make up our firm, those team members would never be successful without the behind-the-scenes players who run our payroll, create our website, and drive our communications. I’m always amazed at how rpk has grown over the past 10 years, and the many skilled hands now involved in the work. It’s humbling to see how they come together, every day, to get the job done.
- Membership Organizations – rpk’s work through higher education membership organizations has been formative to our experience. I think of our early work with Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities on understanding the ROI of student success, and our more recent projects with American Association of State Colleges and Universities to support students of color at regional comprehensive institutions. And, of course, there is our always strong partnership with the American Council on Education to create a new, personalized, virtual professional development experience through its Engage Platform. Over the course of a decade, membership organizations have provided their time and talent to teach us and point to higher education’s most pressing needs.
- Presidents and Senior Leaders – It goes without saying that higher education is a people business, and that its senior leaders have always been in rpk GROUP’s corner. Most importantly, they have offered our team their trust, allowing us a seat at the table and a chance to both teach and learn as together we bring the institutions they serve forward. It is with gratitude and deep respect that I reflect on their role in rpk’s first decade.
- Students – In the midst of our day-to-day work, it can be easy to lose sight of why we are here: to lift up the next generation of students and young professionals through the transformative impact of education. At rpk GROUP, we have a great reminder in the interns who work side by side with us from America’s premier graduate institutions, and most recently from our partner in Rwanda, Davis College.
- Family – I’ve saved my last thank you and shout out for what is always first: my family. I would never have had the courage to launch rpk GROUP without their voices saying, “You can do this. You need to do this.” They have been with me every scary, elated, celebratory step. And I take these steps into the next ten years with my family just as needed, and just as close.
Ten years. Hundreds of clients. Thirty-two states. Three continents. Numbers that attest to our service and to a record of achievement. That decade of distinction creates a strong foundation for the launch into our future: connecting higher education’s mission to a sustainable business model, ensuring prosperity and transformational experiences for years to come.
We can’t wait to see you there.
Photo Credit: Tom Henderson