The Golden Class of ACE Fellows

October 20, 2014

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Audrey BilgerMeet Audrey Bilger, professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College (CA) and new ACE Fellow. Audrey will be blogging her year at the University of California Riverside for Higher Education Today as the ACE Fellows Program celebrates its 50th year. (Photo by Greg Allen)

For the past month, I have been following someone around, sitting in on other people’s meetings and spending my days on a campus that is not my own. No, I’m not a stalker. I am an ACE Fellow, and the experience I am having is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for growth and development.

Last fall, Claremont McKenna College’s president, Hiram Chodosh, nominated me for this fellowship. In September, I was placed at the University of California Riverside (UCR), where I am being mentored by Provost Paul D’Anieri and members of the executive leadership team. Even though I have only begun my ACE year at UCR, I have already learned an enormous amount about the behind-the-scenes effort and planning that a large public research university requires.

I am particularly honored to be part of the 2014-15 “Golden” class of ACE Fellows—the name we have given ourselves to mark our status as the 50th group to benefit from this transformational leadership training program.

As an added bonus, I have the privilege of being hosted by an institution whose chancellor is a former ACE Fellow and member of the Council of Fellows.

In an email, Chancellor Kim Wilcox told me that “it’s a delight to host an ACE Fellow at UC Riverside,” and that the hosting institution benefits from “the energy, intellect, and fresh perspective that Fellows bring to a campus.” Having an ACE Fellow on campus, he said, “reminds me of my own experience and how that helped me grow as a person and an administrator.”

ACE Fellows gain access to a vast network of leaders in higher education. Given the program’s longevity and reach, it is hardly surprising that one of my mentors at the Claremont Colleges, President Debbie Freund of Claremont Graduate University, was the host for Chancellor Wilcox during his Fellowship year.

“I’ve had the privilege of sponsoring several ACE Fellows,” President Freund told me, “and in working with such high-quality individuals you learn a great deal while you’re mentoring.”

Because UCR is such a supportive host institution, I have been able to be at the table when challenging issues are discussed. In the role of an observer, I can reflect on meetings and encounters from a simultaneously immersed and detached point of view. As a condition of this extraordinary access, Fellows are required to maintain confidentiality, and the bond of trust allows us to witness the inner workings of our host institutions.

The trust goes both ways: I get to ask questions and advice about leadership styles and scenarios, thereby learning from incredibly talented individuals who are outside my home campus. This inside/outside dynamic contributes greatly to the education ACE Fellows receive.

Over the coming year, I will post updates on my Fellowship activities and share some of the knowledge I have gained. I would encourage anyone who is considering a leadership role in higher ed to investigate the possibility of becoming an ACE Fellow (the deadline for next year is Nov. 3). As President Freund puts it, “If you do it right, the ACE Fellows Program forces you out of your comfort zone so that you learn to both question your assumptions about leadership and develop your own style.”

Ultimately the goal is for Fellows to go from following leaders around to following in their footsteps—to become leaders who will help sustain the important work of higher education for future generations.

Audrey Bilger is the faculty director of the Center for Writing and Public Discourse and professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College. Her most recent book, Here Come the Brides! Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage, coedited with Michele Kort, was a 2013 Lambda Literary Award finalist. She is the author of Laughing Feminism: Subversive Comedy in Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Austen. She is a member of the Ms. Committee of Scholars and serves on the editorial boards of Pickering and Chatto’s Gender and Genre series and the Burney Journal. Her work has appeared in Ms magazine, the Ms blog, the Paris Review, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, and The Los Angeles Review of Books.

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