M.S. in the Management of IT Blog

“No Excuses!”: Kimberly Lawrence (M.S. in MIT ’23) Supports Virginia’s Community College System

Exposing her to opportunities and cutting-edge tech, McIntire's M.S. in MIT Program provided Lawrence with a range of skills with which to help the VCCS support schools across the Commonwealth.

Kimberly Lawrence

Some people are merely satisfied with their jobs and where they work, but Kimberly Lawrence, Director, Office of the CIO for the VCCS—the Virginia Community College System—is passionate about her position in higher education. How she found her place within the organization behind 23 Virginia colleges that provide degree programs and essential training courses to more than 125,000 students every semester has been the result of her various experiences in other areas. But it’s also because of who she is and what she enjoys doing day in and day out.

“My mind tends to be very analytical, so the VCCS was a natural fit,” Lawrence says.

She first secured a role at VCCS as a Senior Systems Analyst in 2007, a position she held for six and a half years, because she came with a deep knowledge of PeopleSoft, a collection of software tools that large corporations use to manage human resources, customer relationships, finances, supply chains, and more. “That’s what the community colleges were implementing and looking for,” she recalls.

“The idea of helping learners get a better start on their lives or improve their lives is very appealing,” says Lawrence. “It’s what has kept me here for 16 years now.”

From Accounting to Programming

After that first role at the VCCS, Lawrence also spent time adding to her portfolio of skills as Acting Lead System Analyst; Enterprise System Administrator & Project Manager; Lead Program Manager & IT Planning Analyst; Acting Director, PMO & Business Support Services; and IT Planning Analyst, before rising to her current position as Director in the Office of the CIO.

Despite her programming acumen, it wasn’t her first area of expertise. As such, her path to the VCCS “wasn’t a straight line at all,” she says.

Having graduated with an Accounting degree from the University of Richmond, she quickly procured her CPA and joined Deloitte and Touche. “After a year and a half there, I decided I wanted to work for a company from the inside, where I could have an impact,” she says, explaining that decision led her to take on a series of roles over the course of 10 years with the now-defunct consumer electronics chain Circuit City.

“It was there that I transitioned from accounting to programming, which I loved,” Lawrence says.

She took that programming passion to the VCCS, where she began her tenure there, heavily engaged for a few years with the aforementioned PeopleSoft financial system. She also made a choice to expand her knowledge base and earned her PMP certification, a professional designation as a Project Management Professional, and began managing projects for the higher ed organization.

“That really opened the door to managing people,” she says. “Because I have both an IT background and a project and finance background, I’m able to manage large budgets, a staff of people, the PMO [project management office], a team of business analysts, and central IT procurement staff.” The hardest part for Lawrence is the governance piece. “It takes me out of my comfort zone a little and puts me in a political position, working with 23 college presidents, the chancellor for the VCCS, and many other leaders. I’m fortunate to have a boss, the CIO for the VCCS, who is very supportive of me and has my back.”

Multiplying Opportunities

Being an essential part of the VCCS resonates with her personally, and for good reason.

“All three of my kids have attended Virginia’s community colleges in some capacity. All three did dual enrollment, and two of them went on to attend what is now Brightpoint Community College before getting their bachelor’s degrees,” she says, noting that as a single mom, she really appreciated the value that the community college experience provided. And because she is part of the organization that supports those colleges, she is particularly attuned to the opportunities for improvement to better serve learners and better the lives of students, regardless of age or socioeconomic status.

“I find it to be extremely meaningful work,” Lawrence says. “Also, as an employee of the state with a background in accounting and finance, I’m extremely mindful of serving our taxpayers well.”

Lawrence took part in the M.S. in MIT Program’s optional Argentina study-abroad practicum that provides students with international business experience as they work on real-world strategy projects with local businesses.

She has always been interested in learning and applying that knowledge to her professional life. Earlier on in her career, Lawrence had considered an executive MBA, but the financial aspects proved complex, and she decided to pass on the idea. Then in early 2022, her boss suggested that she look into McIntire’s M.S. in the Management of IT Program, which she considered along with other competing programs. She decided that McIntire’s program was what she was looking for. “It had the management, the IT; it was only one year of my life; and the international trip was a huge draw for me, as someone who hasn’t had the opportunity to ever do anything like that before,” she says, referencing the program’s optional Argentina study-abroad practicum that provides with students international business experience as they work on real-world strategy projects with local businesses.

When she began to pursue her business graduate degree, she expected that the M.S. in MIT coursework would help her get a better grasp on some of the deep technical infrastructure, networking, and security issues she grappled with at the VCCS. “I’m often called on to speak to leadership on these topics because I’m able to translate things in non-technical jargon, which most infrastructure people cannot do—but that is challenging for me,” she says.

Lawrence was also hoping the curriculum would enable her to be “a more effective leader, more of a strategic thinker, and less reactionary.” As her PMP certification paved the way for career advancement, she felt that what she would learn would give her more confidence and provide avenues for even more opportunity.

“Everything about the program really helped to fill in gaps in my knowledge,” she says about its governance and strategy components that she heavily relies on today in her role.

Referencing a recent call she was on with one of the VCCS college presidents and IT Executive Council chair, Lawrence says that one overarching mission is to transform the organization so that it operates as a cohesive system—a challenge that her M.S. in MIT coursework has helped her with greatly.

“The program gave me the perfect opportunity to have a sit-down with our new chancellor and talk to him about technology governance, which has been one of his areas of focus since he started with us in April. I’ve been empowered and have the inside track on how we need to evolve our technology governance model in the organization,” she says, adding that she is now engaged in conversation with leadership about the Technology Strategic Plan, which she played a role in developing in order to reach organizational goals.

Explaining that all higher education organizations are struggling with many of the same issues, she says that the VCCS has some bigger challenges than others, due to its large size but lacking strong financial support. That’s where the Technology Strategic Plan is key. “[It will] help move us from reactionary to strategic so that we can use the funds we have to maximize the effectiveness and get to a point where we are operating as a system, not just in name.”

The plan aims to benefit students by giving them a seamless experience across community colleges, also smoothing program delivery between in-person and virtual class attendance. “Our learners have different needs than traditional four-year students,” she says. “They are more often working adults and often are raising families at the same time. We need to find ways to help them be successful and improve their lives.” The plan also ensures that faculty have the necessary tools for advising, optimizing class schedules, and more.

“We are planning to break down barriers between modalities of learning and between workforce and traditional credit programs,” she says. Lawrence and her colleagues are driven to serve people, get them started in pursuing their educational goals via community colleges—and then supporting them every step of the way—a mission fully supported by their Technology Strategic Plan as well.

“On the wall in our department, in huge letters it says, ‘Students first, no excuses!’”

Interested in learning more about how you can use technology and business strategy to lead complex initiatives and create business value?

Explore the power of McIntire’s M.S. in the Management of IT

Brighter Futures Made Through Education

Putting students first required Lawrence to become more fluent in speaking the language of business and hone her presentation skills. Those proficiency upgrades proved to be game changers, she says, crediting her M.S. in MIT professors for the outsized care they showed her and her classmates.

“The faculty were really incredible. They were so giving of their time and such experts in their field. I so appreciated the way they took our feedback too and made changes to the content as we went along. For example, with ChatGPT and generative AI really blowing up during our class year, they were able to modify the schedule to incorporate that after asking us to vote on it,” she says. “Outside of the classroom, I felt like they were extremely encouraging and supportive, giving us the nudges we needed to pursue a new path and get out of our comfort zones and really stretch ourselves. It was empowering.”

Lawrence traveled to Argentina to consult with clients as part of the M.S. in MIT Program.

Lawrence traveled to Argentina as part of the M.S. in MIT Program.

Besides giving her a range of skills with which to help the VCCS support schools across the Commonwealth, the people she learned with and the experiences they shared—particularly in Argentina, where she took part in the optional study-abroad program—will stay with her.

“Some of my classmates were really supportive and giving,” she says. “I’m already counting on going to the wedding of one of my classmates in Greece in the future.”

She also benefited from the interactions she had, recalling the participation of a Microsoft executive who judged students’ final presentations. “He was able to provide me with direction and motivation,” she says. “He told me I was a great storyteller and that I should use that throughout my career.”

For those thinking about applying to the M.S. in MIT Program, Lawrence says she would “absolutely recommend this program to anyone who works in IT or aspires to do so,” explaining that it offers “different value depending on where you are in your career,” with “value to be gained throughout all phases of your career.”

“You will find something in this program that will enhance your career, get you out of a rut, and help set the direction for your future,” she says, emphasizing how it exposed her to unforeseen opportunities and cutting-edge tech, and changed her mindset to consider more “what-ifs.” “You will come out after a year of being all in and be changed and empowered, knowing that anything is possible.”

Admitting that the program is a serious commitment, Lawrence maintains that it’s a worthwhile investment: “I found it to be invaluable, improving my day-to-day work life, and opening doors and future opportunities. Who knows what lies ahead for me? The future is wide open!”

Enter your details and get more information about the M.S. in the Management of IT, the latest program and School news, invitations to upcoming events, and more!