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Meet Stacy McAfee, University of Phoenix

Stacy McAfee and her husband Vice President, Bay Area Campus, University of Phoenix and Joint Venture Board Member

By Duffy Jennings | Published: August 2013

If it weren’t for the name plate on Stacy McAfee’s office door at University of Phoenix in San Jose, you wouldn’t know she is the Bay Area Campus vice president.

The spacious office in the North First Street building is starkly devoid of décor, books, certificates, photos and other mementoes that personalize a workspace. Other than basic furniture and her laptop, it’s virtually empty.

But that suits McAfee just fine. A hands-on academic leader who’s constantly on the move, she much prefers being out and around campus engaging with staff, faculty and students to the administrative drudgery an office requires.

“She is a strong strategic thinker who’s been able to create cultural solidarity, reenergize the faculty and grow existing and new programs there."

Fact is, McAfee probably spends more time working behind her steering wheel than behind a desk.

McAfee says that driving daily from her family home in Sacramento to San Jose or to the University of Phoenix learning centers in Oakland and Livermore and back gives her all the time she needs to catch up on phone calls, Siri-assisted memos and reflection.

Passionate about community service as much as her workaday role, McAfee has also been an active board member of Joint Venture since 2010 and volunteers her time with a half dozen nonprofit organizations in the region.

“I have a hard time finding balance,” acknowledges McAfee, who was named to head the three University of Phoenix Bay Area campuses in 2010 after seven years with the college in other administrative roles.

Under McAfee’s direction, nearly 300 faculty and staff serve more than 5,000 students in the Bay Area.

A majority are “non-traditional” students – mature adults, singles and couples both, with full-time jobs, many with children, and often the first in their family to go to college. They attend classes on the physical campus as well as a digital one.

Stacy McAfee with student at graduation

When Valley Vision caught up with McAfee recently she was busy preparing for the school’s commencement at HP Pavilion, just days before it was to be renamed the SAP Center.

“We have 880 students graduating and all their family and friends come, thousands of people,” said McAfee. “It’s a huge celebration, with lots of screaming and cheering and elaborate decorations on their mortarboards. I must admit I get a little nervous seeing all those people out there when I stand up to make my remarks.”

The student population is not only culturally diverse but internationally so, originating from countries all over the world, she adds.

“People are becoming much more aware of the quality of education that can be delivered online,” says McAfee. “In some cases it can be even better. We have so much experience and wealth of knowledge and understanding, and we’ve learned what it takes to engage students in an online environment.

“We have a competitive advantage because our students can move easily between the local campus and the online classes.”

“Stacy is one of our best ambassadors in the context of civic leadership and engagement,” said her longtime friend and colleague Alex Taghavian, who oversees academic affairs at the school’s Sacramento campus, where McAfee spent six years before taking over the Bay Area campuses.

“She is a strong strategic thinker who’s been able to create cultural solidarity, reenergize the faculty and grow existing and new programs there. Stacy is also a dear family friend, somebody I find very wise as a parent, warm spirited and deeply generous. She always goes the extra mile in a way that makes a memory.”

Founded in 1976, University of Phoenix today has 100 locations nationwide, serving more than 250,000 students. The school offers more than 20 degree programs (associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels), and more than 50 concentrations nationwide.

“Many people don’t know that the seeds of University of Phoenix were first sown right here in Silicon Valley,” says McAfee. “The founder, Dr. John Sperling, was a humanities professor at San Jose State.

“He forecasted in the early 1970s that soon people wouldn’t be able to work, support a family and get an education on traditional campuses. He started by offering night and weekend classes at the University of San Francisco.”

Sperling then moved to Arizona to launch University of Phoenix. The school expanded to the San Jose campus in 1980 and began its online program in 1989. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Apollo Group Inc., a publicly traded Phoenix-based corporation that owns several for-profit educational institutions.

“Joint Venture’s approach to bringing public and private sector leaders together is rarely seen”

“Our faculty loves to teach and they have learned how to facilitate learning,” McAfee says. “I have great admiration for how we do it.”

Among McAfee’s priorities now is a significant remodel of the Bay Area campus to upgrade classrooms and computer technology. The school is also rolling out new career services with a suite of tools and services to support students.

Three years ago, McAfee met Joint Venture CEO Russell Hancock through a colleague in Sacramento and felt she could help make an impact on the community by participating in the organization, especially in educational projects.

“Joint Venture’s approach to bringing public and private sector leaders together is rarely seen,” she says. “I was very impressed with the diversity of the board and thought leadership. Russ is definitely a Renaissance man in his talents and the way he speaks about Joint Venture.”

McAfee and her elder sister, Charice, were born in the mid-1960s to Peter Shianna, a brakeman for the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad, and his stay-at-home wife, Dorothy, who raised the girls in Red Oak, a small community near Freeport in northwest Illinois.

“We lived on two acres and were ‘hobby farmers,’” says McAfee. “We had a couple of pigs, cows and chickens and some fruit trees. That and a few pets kept us grounded. I went to Orangeville High School, in a class of only 56, which meant it was easy to get on sports teams, have a solo in the choir and a leading role in the play.”

Sadly, a heart attack claimed Stacy’s 39-year-old father when she was just 15, leaving a huge void.

“My dad was such a strong influence on my life,” she says.

A devout Catholic, McAfee’s father impressed upon her the value of a good education, a strong work ethic and the importance of community service to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate.

“I got the bug to study transportation logistics...It was something few women study. I thought that was cool to do.”

McAfee recalls with emotion the day she saw her father butchering chickens and gathering vegetables from their garden. She asked what he was going to do with them.

“He said he was giving them to a local family that didn’t have enough to eat,” she remembers. “But he said it was important that we be anonymous and that no one should ever know we were doing it. He said the family deserved to receive these gifts with dignity.”

At work, McAfee leads the staff and faculty in support of nonprofits through volunteering more than 10,000 community service hours over the past four years, and providing free career workshops, entrepreneur events and forums to foster the growth and well being of those living in the Bay Area.

On a personal level, McAfee supports Habitat for Humanity, Save the Bay, Sacramento Food Bank Services, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and the Boys and Girls Clubs.

Keeping a promise to her father to pursue a higher education, McAfee excelled enough in high school to graduate a year early. “But I didn’t want to miss my senior prom,” she admits with a girlish smile.

After her senior year, Stacy earned her AA degree at Highland Community College in Freeport and then transferred to Iowa State University in Ames.

“I got the bug to study transportation logistics,” she says, acknowledging it wasn’t a coincidence that her father and grandfather both worked on the railroad. “It was something few women study. I thought that was cool to do.”

At Iowa State she met Terry McAfee, a veteran attending on the GI bill. Like many of the greatest romances of all time, this one started out with some friction. “I didn’t like him at first,” she says, “primarily because he made fun of me for being what he called an overachiever.” She would later realize that he was her biggest fan and soul mate. Eventually, they found common ground – under the altar – marrying in 1986. Terry is now a senior manager of distribution with Target in Sacramento.

After graduating with a bachelor of business administration degree in transportation logistics, Stacy worked in the transportation industry for ten years before starting a teaching career at Elmhurst College and then DePaul University, where she had earned her MBA in operations management in 1991. She also taught at St. Charles County Community College.

Stacy McAfee with student

Stacy and Terry moved to California in 2001 and they have two sons, Nick, 22, who just graduated from Seattle University in marketing and economics, and Alex, 19, a sophomore at Santa Clara University.

“We have an amazing family,” she says. “The boys like spending time with us. I give my husband a lot of props for that.”

During her commute, McAfee says, she uses the opportunity to make business calls but also to call her mother, who now lives in San Diego, and her sister in Chicago.

“I like Stacy’s energy, she’s very positive,” said Sydney Dowling, a personal friend in Sacramento. “I just like being around her. She’s the kind of person who jumps in with both feet, takes action and works with others to make things happen.”

“As long as I’ve known her, she amazes me because she uses her time so well. I don’t think she sleeps, ever. She’s good at multitasking.”

One thing she’s not good at, though, is decorating her office with knick-knacks and other things that shout “vice president.” But that suits her just fine.


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