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Below are profiles of the five community colleges named finalists for the American Association of Community Colleges' (AACC) inaugural Awards of Excellence in the category of emerging leadership. The colleges include:
The winner will be named April 23 at the annual AACC convention.
Community College of Allegheny County (Pennsylvania)
Alex Johnson, president of the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC), understands first-hand that leadership development opportunities come in all forms.
“As I reflect on my own leadership development, I recognize it’s not only the result of the education I received and experiences I’ve had, but also the relationships I’ve had with individuals,” he said.
He is providing those same opportunities he had to gain leadership skills, and, in doing so, ensuring a strong future for the college.
CCAC’s Leadership Development Institute (LDI), now in its third year, gives employees the opportunity to learn best practices from leaders within the college and the wider community college network.
The institute incorporates a variety of speakers, topics and activities to enhance leadership skills by giving participants opportunities to interact with and gain insight from leaders in various fields related to the mission of the college. Other benefits include opportunities for gaining more awareness of organizational structure and culture and increasing knowledge of resource allocation, budgeting and finance.
The experience transforms participants.
“We have found that they are more knowledgeable about the issues facing the institution, they are more willing to volunteer to support college initiatives, and they are more forthcoming in recommending innovative ideas to senior leadership,” said Charlene Newkirk, CCAC South Campus president.
Participants already are applying their leadership at CCAC. A graduate of the first cohort is now vice president of human resources. One participant is serving as interim assistant dean. Several others are pursuing higher degrees.
Johnson remains involved with the program, spending time with each class.
“He knows every participant’s name and when I have talked to him about opportunities for their growth and development, he always knows who I am talking about,” Newkirk said. “Dr. Johnson is invested in the growth and development of everyone in the institution, and this is just one example of that commitment.”
Cuyahoga Community College (Ohio)
Since she began her presidency in 1992 at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), Jerry Sue Thornton has placed a high priority on a deep organizational culture of leadership and professional development.
“My style of leadership has been to hire the best people we can, continue to develop them and give them opportunities to lead,” Thornton said.
The opportunities are numerous. Monthly college-wide cabinet meetings bring together more than 90 college leaders to discuss common issues. Staff is also engaged in the Annual President’s Retreat and the Annual Support State Conference.
Thornton “has truly built an exemplary system of leadership and professional development at Cuyahoga Community College,” said David Whitehead, chair of the Tri-C board of trustees.
Perhaps one of the most prestigious leadership programs at the college is the Mandel Leadership Development Program. Since it began in 2008 with funding from the Mandel Foundation, 134 staff and faculty members have participated in the program. They receive leadership assessments and develop leadership plans, receive mentoring, work on team projects and take part in workshops and lectures.
While three different cohorts—faculty and emerging and executive leaders—participate in different activities, all of them gain a better understanding of student success, accessibility, teaching, learning and innovation as primary goals of Tri-C. They all learn and begin applying transformational leadership. They all learn to manage conflict. And they all gain a better understanding of the college’s other divisions and the challenges faced by colleagues.
The success of the program has encouraged Tri-C to add a fourth cohort for mid-level support staff.
“I know we have created an important framework that makes it possible not only to develop leaders, but, in fact, leaders of leaders,” Thornton said.
Developing leaders gets to the heart of the Tri-C mission.
“We never forget the business we’re in, and it’s all about students and student achievement,” Thornton said. By developing human capital, the college is developing a “landscape for learning.”
Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (Wisconsin)
“Anyone can motivate; I want us to inspire,” said H. Jeffrey Rafn, president of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) in 2009, while working with college leaders to plan what would become the Inspirational Leadership Academy (ILA).
Rafn knew that training new leaders was crucial to the future of NWTC. Full-time enrollments at the college had risen by 56 percent during his first 10 years as president, but expected retirements threatened to slow progress. Leadership development was a priority, not only at administrative levels, but throughout the college.
“Everybody at the college, no matter their position, can engage in leadership,” Rafn said.
Since it began in 2010, the academy has given 90 college leaders the tools to lead with transparency, vision, reflection and inspiration. In the multi-week program, cohorts of managers around the college are given an environment to break down silos and explore their strengths and identify ways in which they can leverage those strengths to improve the college community.
Participants finish the course with a capstone or active learning project. Past projects have included starting a food pantry, holding a rummage sale to raise money for student scholarships and raising education funds for teen mothers in a shelter.
The ILA “challenged some of my leadership beliefs, provided an opportunity for me to understand my leadership path and allowed me to expand my leadership strengths,” said ILA graduate Linda Hartford, NWTC chief information officer.
Rafn enjoys seeing the changes in participants as they journey through the program.
“They come out of it excited, passionate and committed to NWTC and the students,” he said.
His advice to others is stay passionate, to persevere and to have faith in themselves.
While NWTC has struggled with circumstances that have threatened budgets, labor contracts and benefits structures, Rafn has ensured that the college will continue to invest resources and time in leadership development. His job, he said, is to “nurture” the passion of employees at NWTC.
“When they’re inspired, they’re the spark,” Rafn said.
The investment has paid off. In 2012, approximately 85 percent of new leaders were hired from within the college—up from 50 percent in 2010—and employee engagement continues to rise.
Suffolk County Community College (New York)
President Shaun McKay’s commitment to professional development at Suffolk County Community College (SCCC) is matched only by his commitment to student success.
With McKay’s support, the college’s Leadership Institute has introduced 70 participants to 24 leadership competencies through a year-long practicum, giving them “the poise and confidence to take on leadership roles and responsibilities that are enhancing the profile of the institution on the local, state and national level,” according to SCCC Board of Trustees Chair Dafny Irizarry.
Participants are exposed to leadership theories, practices, skills and an open dialogue that leads to individual and organizational transformation. They are connected with mentors and, throughout the year, are assigned leadership challenges and case studies. Through this, participants gain knowledge of the college’s organizational structure, policies and procedures, community partnerships and more.
Ninety-five percent of the first cohort completed the intensive program and 63 percent experienced significant career advancement within three years. The program inspired two program graduates to develop the Professor-on-Wheels program, which brings college lectures to senior citizen facilities.
“Lessons learned in the Leadership Institute are giving college faculty the confidence to use their acquired skills in broader service to the college in a direct and purposeful way,” said Ellen Schuler Mauk, president of the Faculty Association of SCC.
The success of the Leadership Institute has led to demand from faculty and staff for more training. McKay supported the creation of a foundations leadership class for new faculty members interested in advancement. Additional funding was committed to begin the Advanced Leadership Institute for 20 of the original Leadership Institute participants, starting this summer.
McKay has established a pipeline of effective leaders, which positions SCCC to excel now and into the future.
Waubonsee Community College
From their first day on the job, employees at Waubonsee Community College (WCC) are immersed in a culture of engagement, due to the leadership of WCC President Christine Sobek. Through numerous professional development opportunities, each faculty and staff member receives the support and encouragement to become the leader to which they aspire.
Among these opportunities, Sobek was instrumental in developing the Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT), even before she began her WCC presidency. The center provides a physical and virtual space for personal and professional development courses and workshops for faculty and staff, including software training, classroom and online teaching logistics and best practices, and health and safety courses. Through a partnership with Aurora University, faculty also can take advantage of a Teaching in the Community College graduate certificate program.
The center facilitates nearly 400 sessions, attended by more than 1,600 participants annually. More than half of full-time faculty members have taken advantage of the program.
Sobek also was a strong supporter of the Waubonsee Leadership Academy, launched in 2011 to foster leadership development throughout the college community. However, rather than lead the development of the academy, she “planted the seed, provided the opportunity, inspired us and trusted us in the formation and development,” said Diana Fortier, WCC professor of economics/business.
Through the three-tier academy, employees are provided the opportunity to explore their leadership style, gain foundational leadership knowledge, participate in experiential learning, build connections to the community and demonstrate the acquisition of leadership skills through spearheading a leadership project.
“We want every individual to feel that they can be a leader in whatever role they’re in, and grow and develop,” Sobek said.
More than 400 employees have participated in the Leadership Academy.
Added to these programs are personal orientations, in-services and tuition reimbursement opportunities—all of which enforce Sobek’s vision for fostering teaching and learning at WCC.
Copyright ©2012 American Association of Community Colleges