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Using Technology to Put Faculty First

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Steve Goldenberg found his calling in technology entrepreneurship as a Georgetown University student nearly two decades ago.

A native of Michigan, he recalls a college tour visit to the D.C.-based school where he would eventually develop the web application that became Interfolio, Inc., a higher education software company that streamlines institutional decision processes and professional development for faculty and administrators.

Steve Goldenberg

“I immediately fell in love with the university,” Goldenberg says, adding that Georgetown’s Jesuit educational mission of educating the “whole person” allowed him to explore various disciplines, especially with his particular interest in entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation.

“I made my own major, in a way,” he says. “I was a self-taught engineer and I was working through school, writing software, building databases and supporting various units on campus as a student technology employee.”

As a student technology employee, Goldenberg assisted the vice president’s office, the Kennedy Institute of Ethics (KIE) and another office by running their technology systems. The first-hand experience working closely with faculty and administrators gave Goldenberg insight into how universities operate on multiple levels.

“I got to know the way scholars approach their careers and the way that faculty approach leading their institutions and doing the teaching and research and service work that is the essence of a faculty career,” he says.

In one instance, Goldenberg helped a professor at KIE save files on a malfunctioning computer. The professor thanked him and shared with him that her “life’s work exists on that computer and nowhere else,” he recalls. It made him feel connected to “helping scholars deliver on their mission of teaching students and doing research that advances knowledge.”

Goldenberg then began to think of ways to use technology to modernize existing dossier services such as the one used by Georgetown’s career center in order to make the paper and manual services less cumbersome. He incorporated Interfolio his senior year, in February 1999, and took his product to the Eastern Association of Colleges and Employers three days after graduating with a bachelor of science in business administration.

“I spent the time talking to schools that had those dossier services and showed them an internet-based version of it and got a ton of interest from schools about moving it online,” Goldenberg says. “We were off to the races!”

Now Goldenberg’s role is that of founder, president and chief product officer at Interfolio, a software company that helps more than 200,000 faculty and administrators at hundreds of colleges and universities across the world. Goldenberg also serves as an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, where he got his start.

Interfolio’s mantra of “faculty first” is the “most important characteristic of our company,” Goldenberg says. The mantra builds off of Goldenberg’s earlier vision for the company to help scholars build successful academic careers.

Several of the services that Interfolio offers stem from Goldenberg and his company’s commitment to empathy, equity and transparency in institutional practices. Particularly, the founder says putting himself in the shoes of administrators and faculty enabled him to develop the best tools to support them in their work at their institutions.

“Having our internal structure mirror the structure of higher education in general, it helps us deliver tools and services that are really, truly effective for faculty to be successful in their careers, so that institutions are successful in their missions,” Goldenberg says.

Interfolio products help faculty collect and curate their academic materials in their application process for academic jobs; help administrators track faculty intellectual contributions, which is helpful for accreditation and other reporting processes; and help search committees identify, evaluate and recruit a diverse pool of faculty candidates. Another product assists with the tenure and promotion review process.

“Institutions are presented with a lot of options for software,” says Erin Wash, the assistant provost for administration at Bryn Mawr College. “We did not find any other tool that is so faculty-focused and that has tools so well designed for an academic division like Interfolio. It’s worked out better than we could have imagined to have a product designed with our needs in mind.”

The three primary products — Faculty Search, Dossier and a faculty activity reporting tool — all work in concert and can be used from the time individuals graduate from graduate programs to when they advance to higher education leadership roles such as provost or another administrative position.

“It’s all centered around the idea of advancing the common cause of creating new knowledge, sharing it as broadly as possible, educating the population, helping people acquire new skills and [for faculty] to ultimately be successful in their career and have happy lives,” Goldenberg says.

“When faculty are successful in their careers, institutions are successful in their missions,” he adds. “We think of that as a virtuous cycle that’s the engine of success of every institution of higher learning.”

Goldenberg’s product, in many ways, serves as an example of using technology to break down the silos in administrative data systems. But it also supports institutions in achieving their diversity initiatives, mirroring Goldenberg’s own values for equity and fairness.

Institutions can use Interfolio to further diversify their faculty candidate pool or become compliant with EEO policies, which can then contribute to broader faculty representation for diverse student populations. This leads to higher success rates among students, Goldenberg says.

“We’re really proud of the investment that we’re making in the capabilities and features of our products to enable institutions to deliver on those diversity initiatives, because, at the end of the day, faculty have the greatest influence on student success,” Goldenberg adds. “When it comes to students of color and first-generation students, having diverse faculty that reflect their backgrounds contributes to their success, and we’re really inspired by the data and findings that show that that’s the case.”

Goldenberg likens Interfolio to the trainer or coach in the corner supporting the faculty in the boxing ring doing the work. His passion and charisma for what he calls “a hell of a first job” trickle down to his team of Interfolio colleagues.

Those who work with him note that his collaborative leadership style, flexibility, attentiveness and effusive communication inspire Interfolio employees to uphold the company’s mission in providing a quality product for faculty and institutions.

“Steve is fiercely passionate about elevating the voice of faculty members within higher education,” says Megan Cole, vice president of marketing at Interfolio. “From day one at Interfolio, Steve was very open and trusting in sharing his thoughts and in asking questions.”

Describing Interfolio’s leader in one word, Cole says Goldenberg is “uninhibited.” He is not afraid to take risks or delegate authority to others, something Cole says has been essential for driving innovation within the company.

“[He] is a visionary that serves as an ideas machine — he’s always eager to discuss his ideas with staff. He listens to feedback, and he is amenable to pivoting if it helps achieve our goals faster,” Cole adds.

Within the next few years, Goldenberg seeks to continue using technology as a road map for Interfolio, while keeping the needs of faculty at the center of the company’s mission. Mostly, he is mindful of the areas where technology should and should not be integrated in higher education.

Goldenberg highlights the tenure and promotion process as one example where technology can be beneficial. However, he adds that technology should not reduce the amount of needed conversations between colleagues on a peer committee.

“Technology should enable that,” he says.

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at tiffany@diverseeducation.com. You can follow her on Twitter @Tiffanypennamon

This article appeared in the May 5 issue of Diverse magazine.

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