Recently Kim O’Sullivan, ASCO’s Director of Communications, sat down with Dawn Mancuso, MAM, CAE, FASAE, to discuss her recent appointment as ASCO’s Executive Director.
ASCO: What appealed to you about the position and what are you most looking forward to?
DAWN: Wow, I could go on and on with this question! There is so much good stuff going on at ASCO – and great opportunity to do more. I believe my communications background and experience working in associations, largely in the healthcare field, have prepared me in a very unique way for my position. When I met with the search committee and the Board of Directors, I detected a strong sense of comradery, of community, that is very attractive to anyone working within an association. On top of all that, I am excited to learn and be involved with a new (to me) set of public policy issues surrounding higher education.
ASCO: You started full time as ED on August 31st. How has it been so far?
DAWN: It’s been a real whirlwind. Very exciting! In the first 10 weeks, there has been quite a bit of travel and a barrage of meetings: two board meetings, two Executive Committee meetings, one IOCCC meeting, and somewhere around 20 meetings of either committees or special interest groups. And, that doesn’t include a number of advocacy meetings here in D.C. But I’ve loved every minute of it…these meetings have been a great way for me to meet folks, get acquainted with our dedicated volunteers, and learn the issues facing the profession.
ASCO: What will you focus on during your first 90 days at ASCO?
DAWN: Well, those first 90 days are quickly coming to a close. I’ve really had to focus on the emergent things at hand – especially the preparation for and participation in all of the meetings I mentioned above. I have been working hard to “be a sponge” and learn as much as possible about the issues and challenges facing the profession as well as the educational institutions we represent. Thankfully, I have a phenomenal (and patient) group of board members and staff members supporting me and the organization during this time.
ASCO: ASCO’s previous ED retired after almost 25 years. That’s a huge accomplishment. How do you build on those past 25 years?
DAWN: I am very lucky to have inherited an organization as well run and in such a strong position as ASCO. I have worked in several “turn around” situations before, so I know just how much work it took my predecessor (Marty Wall) to put ASCO on such firm footing. It means that the staff and volunteers are now free to focus our attention on the future. So, we’ve committed to spending some time in the year ahead working on a new strategic plan for ASCO that will intentionally advance the ability of our member schools and colleges to meet the educational needs of the Doctor of Optometry profession tomorrow and beyond.
ASCO: How will you ensure your priorities and the Board of Directors’ priorities are implemented?
DAWN: Implementation is the primary responsibility of any Executive Director. Our goal is to build a strategic plan that it a living, working document. It should and will drive priority initiatives, annual work plans and budgets for the Association. Once the plan is developed, I’ll be working closely with the rest of the staff and the committees/special interest groups to design reporting mechanisms that help us measure our progress as well as ways to communicate that progress to a wide variety of audiences.
ASCO: Where did your interest for association management come from?
DAWN: That’s a long story! I’ve been doing association management work since 1982, so over 30 years. Most people are surprised when I tell them that. I’m hoping it’s because they think I look younger than I am. [laughs] Truth be told, I accidentally got involved in the field. I worked my way through undergraduate university doing editorial work, and worked on the school paper, so I had developed sufficient writing skills to get a job at a newspaper upon graduation. Unfortunately, it was an afternoon daily paper that, like all afternoon dailies, was facing real economic hardships due to changes in how the public got their news. When the paper folded, I helped close down the office and started looking everywhere for my next job – which turned out to be an editorial position with my first association, a professional society in the healthcare field. I didn’t really understand what an association did, and I certainly didn’t know anything about the profession represented by the association. But, I loved it; every day was different, I got to be nosy about what other people did for a living, and I got to help people do what they do better. You get to work with the best, the brightest, the most dedicated volunteers in the profession. I was hooked, and never looked back…and have been thankful ever since that I was so lucky. I eventually went on and got my Master’s degree in Association Management from George Washington University, and attained the Certified Association Executive credential from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), which has since named me as a Fellow. Several years back, I was asked to serve on the ASAE Board of Directors, which was such an honor, a learning experience without parallel, and a great way to give back to the profession I have continued to enjoy for so many years.
ASCO: Has anything surprised or intrigued you about optometric education that you didn’t know before?
DAWN: The theory behind association management is that the best associations are successful because of a strong partnership between the members, who are the content experts, and the staff, who are the operational experts. So, I came to ASCO clearly appreciating that I am far from an expert on optometric education. That said, I am interested and intrigued in learning as much as possible about it, as well as the educational approach that other health professions take. Sometimes the best ideas will come from an organization in a parallel field.
ASCO: On a more personal note, tell us about you a little. What was the last vacation you took? Last good book you read? Any hobbies? Etc.
DAWN: I love to travel, especially internationally. (My undergraduate degree was in international relations.) I’ve visited about 20 different countries so far. I love to read, too, and usually have 3 or 4 books going at the same time, although one book is always my “primary” read. I try to alternate the kind of book that it is – a novel, then business management/non-fiction, then back to a novel. I also do volunteer work. I’m a devoted animal lover, so I’ve married that interest with my volunteer work and currently serve on the Board of Directors for a small non-profit in the D.C. area that tries to help people in need with therapy dogs and other animals. I’m a trained strategic planning facilitator, so I’ve consulted with other non-profits in managing their strategic planning processes. I’ve just started dabbling in genealogy in an attempt to put together my family tree. I’m also an avid gardener – and like to cook with the bounty of vegetables and spices. I’ve been known to make a mean pesto!