Mark Carbonara, Ed.D. ’21, Advances Student Priorities at Dominican University
By Eva Richards

mark-carbonara-photoMark Carbonara, Ed.D. '22, learned he wanted to go into higher education administration during his undergraduate studies.

As the assistant vice president of University Advancement at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, Mark Carbonara, Ed.D. ’21, leads with a caring approach.

“I am most proud of the feedback I get from those I have supervised,” he said. “I do my best to lead with a human-centered approach and ensure that my staff is cared for and valued. When people like where they work and feel seen and heard, they are going to be more effective and efficient at their jobs. Also, they will be happier overall and boost morale across the team.” 

This empathetic problem-solving approach stems from Carbonara’s interests when he was a child and from his experience as a first-generation college student.

“When growing up, as a child, I wanted to be a veterinarian and then changed to being an environmentalist,” he said. 

But after receiving his undergraduate degree in natural science and environmental studies from Dominican University, he quickly decided he could make the biggest impact helping people.

“I was a heavily involved student leader in college and found out that higher education administration was a career,” he said. “I received my master’s degree in college student personnel from Western Illinois University and worked in college administration for eight years before starting my doctoral journey at NIU in 2018. I am currently on the path I have wanted for all of my adult life and that has been propelled by my time in the program.”

Carbonara chose to attend NIU because he was looking for an executive doctorate in education program for working higher education professionals. He wanted a program that used hybrid online and in-person model, and was not too far from his home in Bartlett, Illinois. 

“NIU’s Naperville campus was centrally located and offered amazing flexibility during my program before COVID-19,” he said. “My program readied me for my time as a more senior university administrator through a number of transformative ways. The program prepared my classmates and I for situations regarding university finances, current trends across the country, legal issues in higher education, organizational management, and research practices to make data-informed decisions. I feel more than qualified to handle issues that arise in my role due to my learning in the classroom at NIU.”

Carbonara noted that NIU, and especially the Higher Education Administration Executive doctoral program, greatly impacted his life in many ways. 

“I know how to utilize research and data to advance my work,” he said. “I know both the history and future trends within higher education, I have a highly competitive understanding of higher education law, finances, organizational management, and critical scholarship. I would not be working on research projects, submitting publications, and be an independent consultant without my learning and time at NIU.”

While Carbonara does not believe a “typical day” exists in his role, there are certain tasks that keep him quite busy, often working with others to remove obstacles.

“My day often consists of meetings to discuss advancing university and student priorities and initiatives, fundraising and relationship-building event strategy meetings, and caring for my team to ensure they can do their jobs with the least amount of barriers possible,” he said. “I am part of lots of great collaboration across campus, as well.”

Looking back, Carbonara met many people at NIU who changed his life for the better and accompanied him on his journey to higher education leadership afterwards. 

“My doctoral program bestie, Valronica Scales, Ed.D. ’22, and I were each other’s support, day in and day out, during our program,” Carbonara said. “We met and immediately hit it off from the first day. We are still the closest of friends, know each other’s families, and went to each other’s commencement ceremonies. Not a week goes by that we don’t talk.”

During their Saturday classes at the Naperville campus, Scales and Carbonara would get one hour off for lunch and many of their classmates would pick a local restaurant and go to lunch so that they could spend more time together and grow in relationship and community. 

“Those were always great times,” he said.

Besides meeting his classmates at NIU, Carbonara was deeply impacted by his faculty, including Drs. Katy Jaekel, Gudrun Nyunt, and Xiaodan Hu. 

“These brilliant scholars and teachers not only taught me invaluable lessons regarding higher education, but they supported and encouraged me throughout my doctoral journey when I needed it the most. Their individualized care and support was exactly what I needed in my program,” he said.

When meeting students who are trying to discern their own career paths, Carbonara likes to share some key wisdom, based on his own experience.

“Keep pushing to the finish line. The journey can get challenging, but the outcome will always be worth it,” he said. “Utilize your program supports and lean on your classmates and faculty.”