ACE Fellows Program Opening Retreat: Mile High Management and Leadership in Action

September 19, 2016

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By Lynn M. Gangone

The 2016-17 cohort of the ACE Fellows Program—our 53rd class of Fellows—met in Denver, Colorado last month for their opening retreat. I was particularly excited to be back in Denver, where I spent eight years as a dean at the University of Denver.

Drawing on the depth of resources in the Denver area, we heard from local ACE member institution leaders, and also partnered with Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSUD) for the Fellows’ live case study, a signature part of the Fellows learning process. Stephen Jordan, MSUD president and ACE board member, just announced his retirement, so we are particularly fortunate to be able to participate in a live case study under his leadership.

Our vast network of Fellows alumni will chuckle to know that the Pennyfield College case study is still part and parcel of our opening retreat work. However, those of you who know her will not be surprised to hear that new program director Sherri Lind Hughes, Class of 2002-03, is bringing a fresh perspective to all of the Fellows curriculum, including Pennyfield. Having a leader of the Fellows program who is an alumna and who has served as an institutional leader—most recently as a provost at Marymount University (VA)—means that the Fellows are in excellent hands!

As a Fellows “wannabee,” it is always instructive for me to witness the power of the ACE Fellowship first-hand. Having born witness to the curriculum, the experience, and the Fellows themselves for two years now, I can see why over 80 percent of our Fellows alumni are senior leaders throughout higher education. Leading organizational change, moving from practice to theory to practice, understanding planning and financial modeling, exploring innovative strategies essential to leading 21st century institutions—these things and more make the ACE Fellowship the trendsetting leadership development experience in a distinctly multi-sector learning environment.

A primary feature of ACE Leadership is our commitment to diversity and inclusion, and the work of the ACE Fellows is part of our overall effort to expand the higher education leadership pipeline. Following a session I facilitated on organizational change and understanding one’s approach to institutional leadership, the Fellows asked me to lead an informal conversation on authentic leadership. During our discussion we explored the question, “can one be truly authentic and lead a 21st century higher education institution?” Maybe. Maybe not. Gendered expectations, biases based on race or ethnicity, forming strategic partnerships and becoming allies for one another—these and other perspectives became part of a highly complex conversation during which the Fellows dug deep into their own perceptions about leadership and authenticity. Some were familiar with Debra Meyerson’s book, Tempered Radicals, about individuals who choose to lead authentic lives that also create institutional change, regardless of position or rank. I expect this conversation will continue throughout the Fellowship year, and I look forward to continuing to explore this topic and others with this next generation of senior leaders.

ACE Fellows Program Class of 2016-17
ACE Fellows Program Class of 2016-17. Source: Chris Prosser for ACE

Throughout the week, the Fellows also built the colleagueship among themselves, another hallmark of the Fellows experience. I think this camaraderie was enhanced by the presidential “sages” who lead their small group work and also because of the hotel we chose to meet in. Our meeting was headquartered at the The Curtis Hotel, a boutique hotel with “hyperthemed” guest and meeting rooms. Our meetings were on the Patty Cake floor filled with children’s games; another room had dodge balls on the walls, and I know those balls came down for a little Fellows playtime!

ACE Fellows Program staff member Brian Madden’s room on the Science Fiction floor was dedicated to Star Trek, including a map of the Starship Enterprise and a life-size cardboard rendition of Spock. Sherri Hughes stayed on the Chick Flick floor, where Thelma and Louise and Charlie’s Angels held court. I was on the TV Mania floor, and I had the team from the show “The Office” as part of my room’s décor. As the elevator moved up and down there were announcements on each floor, including Jack Nicholson’s “Here’s Johnny!” greeting from “The Shining.” Who said higher education leadership development work couldn’t have a little fun attached?

Fellows heard from Alton Irwin, representing our Fellows sponsor Capstone On-Campus Management, from Chris Romer of Guild Education, and from Fellows alum Lawrence Hamer, Class of 2007-08, and Nikki Krawitz, former vice president for finance and administration, University of Missouri System, on planning and finance work.

An exceptional group of enrollment management experts from the University of Denver, Community College of Denver, and MSUD presented their best practices and expertise. They were joined in the discussion by the chair of the Council of Fellows, Caldwell University (NJ) President Nancy Blattner, Class of 2002-03, who gave an important perspective on the presidential role in enrollment management and student success.

Our time together capped off at MSUD where we spent a day with President Jordan and his team for the live case study I mentioned earlier. Throughout the next year, the Fellows will advise MSUD on several essential leadership challenges the institution is addressing, providing the Fellows with real-world practice and MSUD with real-time consultant-level support.

Next up? The Fellows are now engaged in their on-campus experiential learning placements around the country, working closely with presidents and other senior leaders to see the inner-workings of higher education leadership. More to come from me in January when we meet for the Fellows mid-year retreat. Till then . . .

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