As UNLV’s executive director of educational compliance, Leeann Fields finds herself in a relatively new field in higher education. She brings her passion for teamwork and inclination for trying new approaches to problem-solving in the ever-changing landscape of online and distance learning. Throughout her career, she has been at the cutting edge of improving the online learning experience and recently helped UNLV become a national leader in the field of regulatory compliance for out-of-state activities of post-secondary institutions. She was elected in September to the advisory group for the national State Authorization Network under the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies. The network is the nation’s leading organization that provides guidance and support for navigating regulatory compliance for out-of-state activities of post-secondary institutions.
What is educational compliance? Why is it important?
This area is really all about consumer protection. UNLV needs to abide by the agreed-upon criteria that all member states and institutions said they would operate under as a member of National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA). By adhering to this reciprocity agreement, we automatically fall in line with federal regulations, and it allows UNLV to expand educational offerings nationwide. Students win by reaping the benefits of expanded educational opportunities and it gives students some assurances of the quality of education we offer across state lines.
What are your duties?
It’s my job to provide guidance and support to colleges and faculty navigating regulatory compliance for the out-of-state activities, such as online learning and professional licensure. I have to know and understand the state and federal regulations as they pertain to State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA) and also to know what UNLV must do to abide by NC-SARA. Basically, I have to demonstrate UNLV is abiding by the rules and regulations of our state, other states, and those the SARA members have agreed are the national standard. And I work to educate the campus community about compliance.
You’ve been with UNLV since 2015. How has your role changed and grown with the institution?
Oh my, has it ever changed! In just shy of five years, I have gone from an instructional designer in online education to the leadership team of that department, and now heading up a whole new office of educational compliance. I’m no stranger to the higher education landscape, working in this arena for over 20 years, including 16 years before coming to UNLV. Change doesn’t always happen quickly in higher ed. But UNLV is a place with backbone, and it is living up to being different, daring, and diverse, letting me create a path to formalizing the role of educational compliance here. UNLV is now a trailblazer in the state, and hopefully is helping to pave the way for other state institutions to see the need for this dedicated office.
What drew you to UNLV?
Initially, it was because I felt that UNLV was (and I feel still is) very forward-thinking in its approach to supporting faculty, in particular those who teach online. UNLV understands the underpinnings of knowledge and skills needed to develop quality online education. This translates to building a good team approach with specialized subject matter experts. Otherwise, as had been my experience elsewhere, you have instructional designers wearing multiple hats including graphic art and programming. But UNLV gets it. I felt from the beginning that UNLV had “it,” the knack for that special formula that allows you to think outside of the box to create great things. That is what drew me here.
What is your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of my job is working with others. I was raised as an athlete; I was always a part of team sports. I had the best times and great experiences being a part of teams and working with others, even though not every team I was on had a winning season. I understand the mechanisms of coaching, being coached, of working together with others to reach goals, to win as a team, and lose as a team. But then, teamwork was always coupled with working individually and taking responsibility on your own to improve. I was the weird one who always loved group projects in school. I’m working on a project right now that involves undergraduate and graduate admissions personnel. We are all working together, sharing, and have different expertise that we are bringing to the table to meet the demands and challenges of the regulations. This is fun to me! (OK, don’t judge.)
Were you always interested in online learning?
I’ve always been interested in education and training. It is no exaggeration to say, in every job I’ve had, I’ve ended up in a role of being the teacher, trainer, or someone who ends up training the trainer. At my first job out of high school as a waitress, I ended up being the one to train new waitresses coming on board. My next job was as a cashier in retail, and I ended up being the head cashier, training all the new cashiers being hired — and that’s just how it has always been. I’m good at systems, understanding and putting process and procedures in place. I’m not afraid to ask questions or seek advice, and that goes a long way in solving problems. I’m good at that, too. Just ask my kids, all seven of them!
Did you have a mentor who encouraged you to delve into this new frontier?
I’ve had several mentors — as a student and a professional. Besides my awesome parents, I’ve been fortunate to have had a few great people in my corner, who instilled in me and encouraged me to not fear “new frontiers.”
I have to mention Dr. Diane Skiba from (University of Colorado) Denver Health Sciences Center, who hired me after I graduated college. To say that Dr. Skiba is internationally known in the field of informatics is an understatement. Go ahead, please Google: “Who is Dr. Diane Skiba,” and what you will find is a pioneer with accolades that would take you a year to read. I’m honored that to this very day, she is still my mentor. Dr. Skiba has a passion for new frontiers and for data-driven decision-making. Under her guidance and as part of the team she put together, we paved the way for the acceptance of instructional design and online learning in the Health Sciences at CU Denver. We weren’t afraid to be the first.
What is the biggest challenge in your field?
The biggest challenge is education and awareness. This body of work is fairly new in the higher education landscape. The key is educating institutional leadership to enable UNLV to move forward and expand outside of Nevada in online education.
What can people do to make your job easier?
Communicate. As I said, I like to approach things as a team. Working smarter, not harder means we talk, share, debate, trust each other, and put it all out there to come up with a way we can prove we’re in compliance. Let’s not be negative or operate out of fear just because it’s something new.
Finish this sentence, “If I couldn’t work in my current field, I would like to…
Be an emergency room doctor — that or a paramedic, a first responder on the scene. I’m a problem-solver; I’m a fixer.
Tell us something people would be surprised to learn about you.
Would skydiving surprise you? I’ve been several times and love it, 15K and 18K jumps. Oh, and I can’t wait to do it again! It’s amazing!
What do you like best about Thanksgiving?
The favorite thing about our Thanksgivings is the menu! I cook up a storm. My family is spoiled rotten and does not like one thing missing from the list. Our traditional family menu besides turkey, of course, is all homemade: sage dressing, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, candied yams, mac and cheese, collard greens, broccoli casserole, green beans, baked corn, strawberry Jell-O pretzel crust pie, salad, deviled eggs, and dinner rolls. And, I promise you, I don’t cook again for days, other than to press a button on the microwave to reheat. My kids all pitch in on their "special part" they have in the meal prep that they had when growing up (washing the greens, peeling the potatoes, crushing the pretzels, etc.)
My favorite tradition is that guests get to bring the desserts (like sweet potato and/or pumpkin pie, pecan pie, etc.) In all the nearly 40 years that I’ve been “in charge” of the Thanksgiving meal, we went somewhere else to eat one time to celebrate the day. We had Stove Top dressing and mac and cheese from the box, and my family said, “That will never happen again!” To this day, at every Thanksgiving dinner, someone tells that story. “Remember when we went to…” (After the meal) we eat, play cards/board games, and watch football. It all makes for a special family/friends time.