Chief Learning Officer and Senior Vice President, Comcast University
Martha Soehren's career has taken her on a diverse journey through the military, higher education, not-for-profit, and corporate sectors. She serves on advisory and academic boards for institutions including Women in Cable and Telecommunications, Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and, most recently, ASTD. She is a member of the Elliot Masie Consortium of Learning Leaders.
Q| What sparked your initial interest in the learning profession?
A| I had a strong desire from childhood to be a teacher. While completing my master's degree, I tackled my first formal teaching role as an adjunct instructor in higher education, and loved it. After I finished my degree, I interviewed at the business school of a local university. The dean said he couldn't give me the teaching job because I lacked experience in academia. Quickly calculating my risks, I offered to teach the first course without pay, and if the students liked me and the job I'd done - and he did, too - I'd stay, and if not, I'd walk away. I taught for 13 years as an adjunct professor and will return to that work in semi-retirement some day. There's magic in helping a person advance his knowledge and career.
Q| What experiences from adult education have been valuable to your roles in workplace learning?
A| I believe the practical experience in the classroom has served me well. I applied workplace learning principles in the college classroom when it wasn't necessarily deemed acceptable to do so. I evaluated students on role plans, action learning assignments, applying theory to the workplace, and other engaging forms of learning. I realized that adults who want to learn will excel when given opportunities to apply what they're learning in meaningful ways.
Q| Did you have a coach or mentor to help you along the way? If so, what was the best advice you were given?
A| My PhD advisor was a mentor and remained as such for several years after my work was done. He caused me to think deeply and thoroughly. I recall one day when he said to me, "I expected more from you." I made up my mind that day that I'd never disappoint him again.
Perhaps my best coach was the one who encouraged me to take a leap of faith and spend two years in a not-for-profit organization. He felt that I could give more there than my organization at the time could give me. It was a terrific experience - not only did I learn about not-for-profits, but I learned about giving back, and serving on boards and in the community.
Q| What are your go-to sources for professional inspiration and development?
A| I look forward to every opportunity to learn from and network with high-caliber learning leaders who sit on industry and academic boards. I think in these settings we challenge each other to be stronger and we share
Q| What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned from your career journey?
A| Recognizing the fact that I own my career - and you own your career. I recall when I was ready to leave the federal government for the corporate world, and my wonderful boss said, "Martha, you don't want to leave. You want to stay here. We'll give you a promotion. We'll take care of you. I feel so confident about this that I'll put you on a six-month sabbatical; come back if you don't like the corporate world." My six months at Comcast ended with a leadership role for the Midwest Division of the university. While I could have let my boss drive my career, I stayed in the driver's seat and haven't looked back.