While Keene State College has waved goodbye to some staff members after February’s buyouts, a few new Owls have flocked to campus too. The newest Owl, Vice President of Finance and Administration Susan LaPanne, has been here less than one month, but is determined to make her mark at KSC.
With initial aspirations of being an English literature professor, LaPanne studied English literature and psychology as an undergraduate student at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. However, after a year of graduate school at the University of Rhode Island, she went back to Mount Holyoke and discovered her, then unknown, niche in accounting and finance.
She was encouraged to take an accounting class and, after just a few days, said she was hooked. “From that point on, that was just it.” And thinking back to her undergraduate involvement, LaPanne said she recalled always being the treasurer of each group she’s been involved in, more so solidifying that the path she was about to take made sense for her.
“You don’t even notice your own patterns. You’re so immersed in the detail of your life that you don’t see the patterns, and sometimes, it takes somebody [else] who looks at it,” she said.
This paved the way for LaPanne, and she then went on to obtain a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Rhode Island and a doctorate from Capella University.
While she didn’t necessarily anticipate pursuing an accounting degree, she attributed her liberal arts background as well-preparing her for whatever she wanted to do. In part due to her liberal arts education, LaPanne said, “I’m not only numbers, I’m also words.”
Following graduation, she took a job as a budget manager at a hospital, and, at the same time, started her own bookkeeping business in effort to learn everything there was to know about a business’ accounting work.
As someone who’s spent a life in accounting, she said she considers herself a translator, one that speaks a numerical “business” language. “We speak a business language that attempts to make all businesses comparable,” she said. “Money is that language. It may not be pretty and it may not appeal to our sensibilities, but that’s the way it is.”
LaPanne also taught at Bristol Community College until later being asked to apply and work at the Commission of Higher Education in Rhode Island, which she did for about 10 years.
However, when it came down to it, LaPanne said she yearned to be back on a college campus. “There’s a lot of clutter and confusion and noise and excitement, and when you’re in a system office and not on a campus, it’s quiet, it’s really quiet, and I missed it.”
After doing a national job search, LaPanne stumbled upon KSC and said the dedication of everybody she met and the strong sense of community is what drew her here. LaPanne received three job offers, including KSC, but said she knew this was the place she wanted to be.
“I didn’t think twice about it, and it was the warmth of everybody that I met that made me say, ‘You know what? This is the kind of place I’ve always wanted to be in.’ It’s liberal arts, it’s a small institution, it’s a public institution,” she said, “it was basically a no-brainer.”
As far as her responsibilities go, she manages all general accounting at KSC. Additionally, she oversees Institutional Research, Information Technology and Plant Services. “That keeps me tied to the student experiences in a different kind of way because it lets me be involved with the physical facility that all [students] experience and that’s really important,” she said. “The grounds are meticulously maintained, and lovingly maintained, and that shows through.”
Director of KSC’s Physical Plant Frank Mazzola participated in the interview process with LaPanne and said she will fit in wonderfully at KSC. “A combination of Susan’s experience and her passion to join a community committed to student success and opportunity was extremely compelling. She is experienced, visionary and committed to Keene State’s core mission. She will be an exceptional addition to the Keene State team.”
Additionally, KSC President Melinda Treadwell said LaPanne has an “incredible vision and commitment to community.” “She is driven by wanting to be a part of helping a campus like ours become not only financially stable,” she said, “she’s incredible.”
While she’s only been at KSC for a few weeks, LaPanne said she sees the Keene community “thriving.”
“My favorite part is that everybody collectively loves this place so much that the enthusiasm ignites when they start talking about it… It’s a tiny little place that does great things and that’s thinking great things for its future, and to the one, I have not met an employee here, not anybody, who is other than that and I love that.”
Jessica Ricard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org