Leader. Partner. Learner.

When her campus partners, peers and staff talk about Fran Dykstra, those three words are spoken time and again. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to have a conversation about Fran and not hear those words come up at least once.

Fran Dykstra
Fran Dykstra

Fran is retiring from her post as Associate Vice Chancellor for Enterprise Applications on September 30, 2019, after almost six years of service at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Fran came to Carolina in November 2013, no stranger to higher education, by way of Stonybrook University and having already retired from Yale University.

Her mission when she arrived was clear: get the HR/Payroll and Finance side of ConnectCarolina live.

As J. Michael Barker, Interim Vice Chancellor for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer, said, “The project was in acute crisis” when Fran arrived. By all accounts it was in desperate need of a leader. And Fran was that leader.

Makes difficult decisions

Within her first year, on October 1, 2014, ConnectCarolina HR/Payroll and Finance launched. For that to happen, Fran had to make some difficult, sometimes unpopular, decisions.

According to Steve Haring, Assistant Vice Chancellor for ITS Finance & Administration, “Without Fran being Fran, we never would have gotten ConnectCarolina live on that date. She had to tell people ‘you aren’t getting that or the other thing you want,’ but it was the only way it was going live.”

Over the last five years, because of Fran’s leadership, the ConnectCarolina team moved out of the stabilization period and completed four successful upgrades of the system.

Camaraderie and compassion

Fran Dykstra presents at Freaky Friday
Fran Dykstra presents at Freaky Friday

Allison Legge, Senior Associate Director of Enrollment and Undergraduate Admissions, remarked that Fran “made this place better. She moved us in the right direction and brought camaraderie and compassion.”

If you think that Fran would say that implementing ConnectCarolina was her greatest accomplishment at UNC-Chapel Hill, you would be wrong. For Fran, it wasn’t just about implementing a new system. Instead, her answer to that question was “building a great team.” What she’s going to miss the most when she retires is the people.

Vicki Bradley, Associate Vice Chancellor for Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement, commented, “She has the ability to bring people together and accomplish much. She cares a lot. She’s really tried to make sure that everyone’s viewpoint has been taken into account.”

Connecting with people

If you’ve ever been in a meeting with Fran, particularly a meeting that others may call tense, you know that she likes to start meetings by connecting with people and learning about them.

“Who’s your favorite superhero?”

“What book are you reading?”

“What’s a must-have at your Thanksgiving meal?”

Asks tough questions

In meetings with Fran, you had to be prepared to answer any number of surprising questions. She liked to ask the tough questions, the ones that made you think, the ones that made everyone realize that at the end of the day, we are all people and often, we have more similarities than we realize. To know what super hero was your favorite enabled Fran and everyone in those meetings to learn about the other people in the room.

Fran Dykstra meets with her ConnectCarolina team
Fran Dykstra meets with members of her team

Turning the tables on Fran, we asked her some of those tough questions. Her dream job when as a child was to be a teacher, and then a lawyer (but she’s glad to not be a lawyer; she’s not a fan of reading contracts all day).

Fran’s favorite books are “Becoming” by Michelle Obama, “Grant” by Ron Chernow, and “Kitchens of the Great Midwest,” a novel by J. Ryan Stradal. And reaching really deep into the question bank, Fran’s favorite world heritage site is AngKor Wat in Cambodia.

Consulting is next

And finally, the question that everyone is asking Fran these days, what’s next? Never one to rest on her laurels, in her retirement from UNC-Chapel Hill, Fran will still be working.

She’s planning to do some consulting for now. After that, she’s not really sure. One thing is certain though, wherever Fran ends up and whatever she does, she’ll be a leader and a great partner. And she’s not likely to quit learning any time soon.

Fran’s campus partners, peers and staff will miss having her as part of their team, but Allison Legge summed it up the best, “Leaders come and go, but Fran will be with us for a long time — in a very real and great way.”

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