Officials relaunch faculty leadership program to build connections across schools

Media Credit: Courtesy of Hiromi Ishizawa

Hiromi Ishizawa, a cohort member of the academy, said participating faculty will have a better understanding of how the University functions.

Administrators relaunched an academic leadership initiative involving faculty leaders across the University this fall after a year-long pause during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The GW Academic Leadership Academy returned this year with a curriculum for faculty to hone their leadership skills with a personal project documenting their experience in the program and training seminars on topics like conflict management and communication. Officials said they relaunched the leadership academy for participants to fully engage in the program as the University returns to in-person teaching.

The program consists of seven seminars that administrators present to help faculty cultivate skills, like emotional intelligence and vision creation. After completing the academy, members of that year’s cohort participate in a graduation ceremony where they present their project and what they learned throughout the experience.

Interim Provost Christopher Bracey said officials and deans from each school nominate faculty to the cohorts in a manner as “inclusive as possible,” and faculty can also join through a self-nomination process. He said officials selected the 19 faculty members of this academic year’s cohort over this summer.

“We are quite proud of the diversity of our current cohort, and it has added tremendous value to the experience for all involved,” Bracey said in an email.

Bracey and then-Provost Forrest Maltzman created the academy in fall 2019 to initiate connections between rising faculty leaders, like department heads and deans, across different schools. Faculty in the program this year said Bracey and Sara Melita, the executive consultant at the Office of the Provost, currently run the academy.

Hiromi Ishizawa, the chair of the sociology department, said she assessed her “developing” leadership style through the program’s evaluation of conflict management. She said the first academy seminar – where Barbara Bass, the dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, spoke about her experience at GW and the concept of “vision” – inspired her to start brainstorming her own vision to create more research opportunities for students.

“Within this training, it’s not only about how to be the leader but also about understanding ourselves,” Ishizawa said.

Ishizawa said participating faculty discuss what they learned in small groups after each seminar, helping cohort members foster relationships among themselves for potential collaboration on research or curriculum development. She said she enjoys being a part of a diverse cohort with participants across different schools and departments.

She said by the end of the program, participating faculty will have a better understanding of how the University functions, helping them “give back” to the GW community.

“Being a chair of the department, it’s a small unit in the bigger University, so it’s good to know what other units are doing and trying to solve,” Ishizawa said. “Sometimes we share similar concerns, but they sometimes don’t, and it’s interesting to hear their experiences.”

Robert Orttung, a research professor of international affairs, said the academy has scheduled meetings with members of the first cohort from 2019 to pass on their knowledge to the current class.

He said he sees the academy as an opportunity to support those who have “weaker” relationships among faculty at GW because the academy facilitates connections and discussions across departments and schools.

“This project is developing a lot of these weak ties in the sense that no, it’s not like they’re family and friends, but they’re part of a bigger network that I can call on if I want advice about how to do things across campus,” Orttung said.

Alexander van der Horst, the deputy chair of the physics department, said he received feedback from past and current cohort members about their goals during their time in the academy.  He said he plans to extend the current faculty workshops on pedagogy and teaching within the physics department through his own personal project in the academy.

He said cohort members from previous academies who faced similar challenges with their projects have assisted with solutions that they had tried.

“It was almost like a big problem solving session with everybody there to kind of think about how to deal with some of the issues other people are facing or conflicts that people are facing and kind of talk through that,” van der Horst said.

He said individuals in academia tend to stick to a certain position they attain, but the academy will strengthen leadership skills for those who want to take their career to the next level.

“This would basically give a broader pool with more leadership skills, who could actually step in and take on some of these roles, and so it also wouldn’t always come down to the same people,” van der Horst said.

Casey Burgat, the director of the legislative affairs program, said officials hosted speakers like Bass and Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Dean Paul Wahlbeck during the first two seminars to explain their “everyday challenges” similar to those Burgat faces in his department. He said hearing the speakers talk through their solutions to those issues was helpful to his own situation.

“GW is so big that it’s hard to be on top of everyone’s work, and to hear about it from their perspective is just energizing and I’m proud to be a part of it,” Burgat said.

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