Both a Lifetime and a Moment


In an August 2021 communication to faculty, in the midst of a pandemic and a great upheaval in the way we deliver learning, Provost Turina Bakken told colleagues, “On the challenging days, we regularly do the impossible with style and heart.”

Doing the impossible with style and heart is an apt description of the way Turina leads.

After 25 years at Madison College, including the past seven as Provost, Turina will be retiring in the end of June, and she will be greatly missed.

  • Her joy will be missed.
  • Her insight will be missed.
  • Her love of the college, its faculty and students will be missed.

But more than anything, it’s her way that will be sorely missed. Her presence.

The way she makes everybody feel seen and heard. The ways she can calm a frightening moment and bring a smile to an otherwise average day.

Turina Bakken in regalia at graduation
Provost Turina Bakken at Madison College’s Spring 2023 Graduation

It’s easy to list her concrete accomplishments (though the list would be longer than this article allows). From her 10 years as a faculty member and program director, to leadership of the School of Business and Applied Arts; from leading study abroad and advancing international education to innovations in the academic portfolio and academic plan; from community contributions to the referendum her impact and influence has been wide ranging.

We could go on, but then we’d be missing a lot. We’d be missing the lasting imprint of what colleagues and students will remember most about Turina. What people value and will remember about her are how she makes them feel. How she listens and how she cares deeply.

They may also remember colorful socks, discussions about dogs, stories about her spirited Norwegian grandmother and her sense of humor.

When you speak with people on campus about Turina, the affection is palpable. But it goes beyond the ordinary “She’s really nice” type of affection. There are countless stories about how she connects very personally with individuals, demonstrates empathy, kindness, and thoughtfulness in each and every interaction.

Bryan Woodhouse, vice president of corporate and regional affairs at Madison College, who twice directly succeeded Turina in different positions talked about how he prepared for those roles. “I wasn’t just stepping into the functional job; I was also modeling how Turina went about working with people. She approached everybody with compassion and genuine care and that is what builds bonds.”

Famous for her walks around campus, she stops and engages with whoever she happens upon. And it’s more than just “hello.”

Turina Bakken
Turina embracing the pandemic’s ‘work from home’ style

These interactions are meaningful moments of connection. The discussion could be about a shared love of dogs, a problem in a classroom, an idea for a new program or a chat about weekend plans. Regardless of the content, Turina approaches it fully present and engaged making the other person feel heard and seen. She’ll stop in a lab to talk with faculty, chat with the night janitor, visit with a student or a member of the College staff.

Madison College President Jack Daniels noted, “These informal conversations are often more important that formal conversations in meetings. It’s how Turina builds relationships and connections.”

“Nobody has ever had more fun just walking around campus than Turina does,” said Woodhouse, who noted that she also takes care of so much business with those face-to-face chance encounters.

Business technology instructor Amy Whitcomb noted that “Turina just loves the world. The walks are not part of some management technique. She just goes out to find humanity on a daily basis and turns on metaphorical light switches every day.”

Dr. Turina Bakken with Dr. Jack Daniels and Phi Theta Kappa members
Turina with Madison College president Dr. Jack Daniels and Phi Theta Kappa students

A legacy of impacting others

When asked about her legacy, Turina is clear that she wants it to be measured in how she has impacted others. Students, faculty, administrators and the larger community.

Turina has mentored many faculty and staff including Shawna Carter, Vice President of Academic Affairs who says, “Turina cares deeply about people and I watched over the years the countless hours she spent meeting with people and supporting them both personally and professionally. She has done this across the college with faculty, staff and students.”

Accounting instructor Dorothy Conduah credits Turina for supporting her as she made the move from assistant controller at Madison College to full time faculty. While many told Conduah she was crazy for wanting to make the change, Turina supported her and mentored her through the process.

“Her legacy is not just helping me make the shift,” notes Conduah, “but part of her legacy is through faculty like me and the impact we’re having in the classroom. Her reach is broader than just on those within her direct purview.”

Whitcomb echoed Conduah’s sentiment saying, “Her ultimate impact, through the faculty, is a domino effect that also enriches the experience for students.”

Turina says that her leadership philosophy is to “Create conditions of excellence for other people” noting that she prefers to stand back and watch the results of the success in others.

It’s clear that the conditions she has created and the faculty and staff she has impacted will continue to have a ripple effect for years to come.

Rainbow scholarship check presentation ceremony photo
Check presentation for the endowed Rainbow Scholarship

Instilling confidence during turbulent times

While it’s easy to discuss the aspects of Turina’s tenure at Madison College as all smooth sailing, that’s not necessarily the case. To be sure, there were turbulent times throughout and, for some, that’s when Turina’s leadership was most meaningful.

Not because she “took charge” or “rallied the troops” but rather, she continued to do what she always had. She instilled confidence and calm simply by leading with a steady hand, by listening and by helping lead through with grace, empathy and authenticity.

Dr. Bakken with Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett
Turina with Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett

She did this in 2011 when Act 10 dramatically altered the history of public sector unions. She did this again in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic changed, well, everything.

“During times of stress and anxiety, she always remains calm and patient,” said Leslie Petty, Dean of the School of Academic Advancement. “She is able to remain positive in the face of challenges.”

Jeff DeWitt, animation instructor described Turina as “A good captain as the storms ebb and flow. There is a tone she sets that the rest of us can really follow. She creates the belief that everybody and everything is going to be fine.” He went on to say, “When Turina is involved, I have faith that we’ll get through and succeed.”

As Provost, there were times when tough decisions had to be made and hard conversations needed to happen. Turina didn’t shy away from these and approached them with the same authenticity and compassion she’d approach any issue.

Bob Curry a part time English instructor who co-leads an association of part time faculty at the college notes, “In these times, she really listens to you. She acknowledges your problems, feelings and points and frames the whole question or discussion.”

This same grace and empathy is how Turina approaches people one-on-one when they need help. Madison College District Board Member Frances Huntley-Cooper said, “She has the ability to nicely, gently walk people through experiences where they struggled, and she knows how to resolve issues diplomatically.”

Executive Dean of the School of health Sciences/School of Nursing, Marsha Tweedy shares a similar sentiment, “Turina showed me how to listen and support others, even when we do not agree.”

The gift of thoughtfulness

In addition to the leadership in her functional role as provost, another recurring theme in discussions about Turina is her thoughtfulness. There are myriad stories about her showing up at events big and small to support a colleague or a family member of a colleague. Bringing a baby gift for a colleague’s newborn in the hospital. Handwritten cards shared with colleagues across the college to acknowledge awards, celebrations, sympathies or everyday encouragement. Walk the campus and you will find those notes tacked up in offices as a symbol of being seen, thanked, known or remembered.

Lynea Lavoy, Chair of the Hospitality Department, described Turina as, “A leader who cares more about me as a person than just what I bring to the college. She makes me feel like I’m a whole human.”

Dr. Bakken with an award winner
Turina and student leader Katrina Willis celebrating her many awards

Lavoy talked about the notes that she and her colleagues have received. “When you see your leader doing that, you know that’s how you want to show up too.”

Showing up is exactly what Turina does. She attends every student event, faculty or College event that her calendar accommodates. It’s her way of showing support for the community and the school.

Madison College Chef Series group photo
“Top Dean” culinary competition for the Academic Affairs leadership team

“I’ve never seen somebody as committed as Turina to checking in with people or supporting their development,” said Carter.

Tweedy recalls that during her own doctoral journey, Turina would send encouraging messages and was always there to provide support during a time when balancing family, teaching and the doctoral program became challenging.

President Daniels, when asked about what he would miss about Turina said, “I’ll miss her energy and I’ll miss the connection and her friendship.”

The famous Turina thoughtfulness comes without pretense or design. To a person, nearly everyone we spoke to about Turina mentioned her authenticity and realness.

Joseph Lynch, a philosophy instructor and co-lead of the Part Time Faculty Association said that Turina embodies both a commitment to the College community plus a sense of authenticity as a person. “You know you’re talking with Turina the person – not just Turina the administrator.”

Turina said that the past 25 years at the college have been both a lifetime and a moment. For the Madison College community, that translates to many many moments of connection leading up to a lifetime of impact.

Turina Bakken holding a puppy dog
Turina’s love for dogs runs deep, and clearly, she’s got the touch!

Editor’s note: This story is the first of many in an ongoing series focused on highlighting the incredible work and achievements of our faculty and staff at Madison College. We look forward to sharing more of these profiles throughout the next year.