Makin strides

How one alumna and her alma mater rose to influence together

By Brad Plothow
UVU Magazine, Winter 2012 

                  Our appointment was for 3 p.m. on a Monday in early September, a doubly busy time for Linda Makin ‘02. The beginning of the week is always hectic, and it was the beginning of the academic year to boot. As the chief planning, budget and policy officer at Utah Valley University, Makin carries a sizeable load at the rapidly growing institution, and on this day, she was locked into an important phone conversation. Three o’clock buzzed by, but I waited my turn. She was apologetic when we sat down together, but there was no need. Frying the big fish doesn’t always fit neatly within the hour.

                  From the bits I picked up while sitting outside Makin’s office in the UVU administrative suite, I could tell it was a conversation about big things. I couldn’t help but juxtapose the presumed size of the topic with Makin’s diminutive stature. On her toes, she might crest 5 feet tall, but at UVU she is anything but small. For more than 30 years, she has seen UVU from the perspective of a student and an employee, beginning as a secretary in the business school and rising to become one of the most respected financial minds in the Utah System of Higher Education, an evolution President Matthew S. Holland noted in his inaugural speech in October 2009.

              “What I love about the Linda Makin story is that it is not just a classic account of how indispensable this institution has been in her life. It is also a story of how indispensable she has become to the institution,” Holland said. “Linda currently sits 15 feet from my office door, as executive director of planning, policy and budget. … Linda, we are lucky to have you.”

              All that time at UVU gives Makin a unique perspective on the institution that has grown into one of the largest public institutions in Utah. Her career spans five UVU presidents and evolutionary points ranging from the technical college days through university status and the introduction of graduate programs. But it’s more than that. Makin’s own professional journey mirrors UVU’s evolution. For three decades, Makin and UVU have grown to prominence together thanks to strong influencers, unalterable persistence and a deep commitment of the power of education.


Early influences

              During her formative years, Makin was surrounded by examples of hard work and ingenuity. The fifth of six children, Makin (maiden name Lund) was raised by a munitions technician who made the long daily commute to Dugway Proving Ground and a mother who stayed home to raise the children and care for the home. The family never had much money, but what the Lunds lacked in resources they made up for in resourcefulness. When the family wanted to take a road trip to upstate New York, her father and brothers fashioned a camper for the truck to make the 2,500-mile trek more bearable and economical.

              Makin didn’t have to look far for industrious role models, but she knew of very few women who pursued careers in those days. The one example she remembers is the lunch lady at Lehi Elementary School. As a girl, Makin figured her professional options were limited to becoming a nurse, teacher or secretary.

              “That’s what I saw. That’s what I knew,” she says.

              Makin was a model student. She graduated third in her class at Lehi High School and was the Sterling Scholar in business, all the while holding jobs as a receptionist, a bookkeeper at a resort in Saratoga Springs and assistant to a court clerk for the Lehi justice of the peace at various stages of her secondary education. After high school, she was highly recruited by LDS Business College in Salt Lake City, giving her the opportunity to become the first woman in her family to receive a higher education. She was flattered by the attention, but she got cold feet at the last minute.

              “I couldn’t do it,” she says. “I started thinking about how I’d pay for tuition, how I’d have to find another job. And the idea of moving to the big city, which is what I thought of Salt Lake — it just didn’t add up for me.”

              Makin had also been courted by Utah Technical College, where two of her brothers studied in the drafting and electrical programs. After passing on LDS Business College, Makin linked up with Barbara Hoge, a faculty member in the UTC business school, to see if there were any scholarships remaining. There were not, but Hoge took a personal interest in Makin and encouraged her to enroll anyway for the first academic quarter in 1978. She did, footing the bill herself initially before winning a scholarship the following quarter. In keeping with her stellar academic record, Makin flourished at UTC, graduating with an associate of applied science degree in secretarial sciences after five quarters, which included an internship and leadership in the Phi Beta Lambda business organization. While her ability was never in doubt, Makin credits Hoge with challenging her to follow through with her goal of attending college.

              Mentors like Hoge left an indelible mark on Makin at impressionable stages, and UVU can attribute much of its early success and institutional culture to early influencers, as well. Beginning in the 1940s, UVU assumed the personality of Wilson Sorensen, who during a 36-year run as president literally rolled up his sleeves to paint girders and lay tiles, establishing a persisting can-do spirit in the process. For Makin and her alma mater, role models left lasting impressions.


Bumps in the road

              While attending UTC, Making also took a job as a secretary to the dean of the business school, Lucille Stoddard. In the spring of 1980, Makin wedded fellow UTC student Mike Makin, a machine tech student from American Fork, Utah. Life was good for the young couple, and their joy soon multiplied. In July 1981, they welcomed their first child into the young family. Makin quit her job, shifting the family’s material needs solely onto the shoulders of her husband, who worked for McNally Steel. Makin’s desk at UTC had barely gotten cold when her husband’s job fell victim to a severe recession that gripped the nation in the early 1980s. The simultaneous loss of two incomes hit the family hard.

              Makin went back to work at UTC, resuming the same post she had left mere months earlier thanks to a series of lucky breaks. Makin’s reputation as a bright, nimble contributor grew quickly, but she soon realized her mobility would be limited unless she coupled her on-the-job learning with formal education. While she took on new responsibilities at work, she also chipped away at an associate degree, which she finally earned in August of 2000. After that, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting from what was then Utah Valley State College in 2002.

              Balancing work and school wasn’t easy, even for someone whose world centered on promoting higher education. She was blazing a new trail as she tried to balance her work, school and family responsibilities. It helped that the campus offered a resource that kept her young children close. The education students operated a daycare as part of the program, so Makin could drop off her kids in the morning before work and pick them up in the afternoon, all the while knowing they were in good hands and being cared for in an educational environment. The experience also helped her children develop a familiarity with the Orem campus.

              “They grew up here. It was home,” says Makin, adding that her two daughters and a son-in-law attended UVU.

              In addition to the career implications, Makin’s decision to go back to school was predicated on the fact that she wanted to set an example for her children. When her oldest daughter was in junior high, Makin questioned her own ability to help with increasingly complex math homework in spite of her natural penchant for numbers. Still, once she earned a bachelor’s degree, Makin figured she was done. That’s where another mentor factored into the equation. Cameron Martin, special assistant to former UVU president William Sederburg, prodded Makin in the direction of a master’s degree. His was no idle interest — he followed up with her at a strategic time, just prior to the registration process.

              “Linda is a dear friend and a great person, and I wanted the best for her,” says Martin, who was pursuing a doctorate degree at the same time. “In higher education, we want to practice what we preach, and although Linda was already so competent and smart, I knew she would gain more knowledge and self-confidence by going back to school.”

              Thanks in part to Martin’s persistence, Makin began studying in the master of public administration program at Brigham Young University in 2004. She had subsequently taken on new responsibilities at then-UVSC and was directing budgets and reporting directly to the president in the run-up to university status. The increased demands took a toll. The family’s collective energy was sapped, and the stress of it all got to Makin about halfway through the MPA program.

              “I almost didn’t register for classes. I was just drained,” Makin says, fighting tears. “Thankfully, my family pushed me through it. I can empathize with students, especially working women, who struggle with life’s challenges while earning a degree. I do whatever I can to help them succeed because I know education is the way out. It’s the way up.”

              Makin’s struggle is not unlike the challenges UVU faced in its early years. After World War II ended, federal funding for vocational schools was pulled, and if not for a heroic lobbying effort led by Sorensen to obtain state funding, there might still be a gravel pit where UVU stands today. In the ensuing six decades, UVU met resistance during attempts at expansion and the introduction of new roles, but much like Makin, the institution persisted and flourished in the face of adversity thanks to singular focus on the bigger goal.


Ever learning

              In early 2009, mere months after Makin assumed her current role as executive director over budgets and policy at UVU, the young university faced a potentially crippling prospect. Having become a university only the previous summer, UVU now heard rumblings out of the state legislature of a 17 percent budget cut as a result of the slumping economy. That meant more than $12 million in revenue erased from the base budget, wiping out the precious funding UVU received to add faculty and programs for university status — and then some.

              “It wasn’t pretty, but we dealt with the challenge at hand,” Makin says. “That was a very, very painful experience, but we were able to cope because UVU is scrappy. It’s in our genes.”

              It helped to have someone with Makin’s depth of understanding navigating the choppy waters. That budget season, Makin utilized all the practical and academic tools she had gathered over the years, as well as the resourcefulness she gleaned from observing her father’s make-it-work approach to problem solving. By all accounts, the budget crisis would have been much more difficult without Makin’s expertise, perspective and resourcefulness on the president’s cabinet.

              Makin gathered that experience not only in the classroom, but also by observing and accepting new challenges at work. She did accounting as a young manager at Saratoga Springs, and at UVU she dabbled in everything from financial matters to curriculum development. As a secretary, she learned to type 10-key with her left hand while simultaneously writing with her right.

              As confidence grew in her abilities throughout her career, Makin was given responsibilities beyond her formal job description. Soon she was working the telephone switchboard, team teaching classes and helping to process mountains of keypunched registration cards by hand. In time, she was editing the academic portions of the massive course catalog and making multi-million dollar budget decisions. Those experiences combined to paint a broader picture of UVU, aiding Makin when she had to help Interim President Liz Hitch patch a $12 million hole.

              “Linda was ready to take on new tasks. She had her budget office humming along, and we needed her to step up,” Hitch says. “Her work with the many constituent groups represented in the UVU planning process provided a foundation of data and insights from the campus community upon which President Matt Holland could build in leading UVU in its first years as a university.”

              Makin’s role grew parallel to UVU’s own evolution. In the early days, students established a culture of engaged learning by building the flagpole for the original vocational school campus, and from there the institution adapted to the changing needs of the region while holding onto the ideals that made it unique. Now, as a university, UVU brings the background of an institution that taught welding to World War II-era tradesmen, offered community college services to students with diverse needs, brought baccalaureate studies to the table in the early 1990s and, finally, took on the challenge of integrating all this experience into a unique model for teaching universities in the 21st century.

              With rapid expansion projected over the next decade, UVU’s growth will no doubt require Makin’s perspective and thoughtful leadership well into the future. And Makin will probably continue to grow right alongside her alma mater and longtime employer — even if that growth does nothing to push her over the 5-foot threshold.