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MAC Leadership Development Program fellows focus on pandemic leadership

May 31, 2021

Mary Lynn Doherty, assistant director and coordinator of Music Education in the School of Music, Gwen Gregory, associate dean of Collections Management for University Libraries, Jamie Mayer, associate professor of Speech-Language Pathology, and Jessica Reyman, professor of English and acting director of the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, are representing NIU as members of the 2020-2021 Mid-American Conference (MAC) Academic Leadership Development Program cohort.

The MAC Academic Leadership Development Program (ALDP) provides an opportunity for NIU faculty to gain valuable knowledge and experience in academic leadership by working closely with select faculty and administrators from other MAC colleges and universities. Since 2017, NIU and other colleges and universities in the MAC have participated in the program whose mission is to identify, develop, prepare and advance faculty as academic leaders from MAC member institutions. This includes academic leadership development workshops hosted by one of the 12 MAC institutions each fall and spring semesters, and monthly meetings of the Fellows at their home institutions.

“Developing strong leaders is a stated priority in the university’s goals and is vital to NIU’s future,” said Chad McEvoy, Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs. “The ALDP is a terrific collaboration with peer institutions towards developing leaders among the faculty on our campuses, and NIU’s fellows really embraced the opportunity to expand their leadership skills and experiences in a challenging time for everyone.”

While this year’s cohort faced a unique set of challenges due to the pandemic, Doherty, Gregory, Mayer and Reyman used those challenges as an opportunity to learn and grow.

With a focus on pandemic response, the fellows set out to explore leaders and leadership styles during a time of crisis for their core ALDP project.

“We shared an interest in learning about leadership and also in learning more about how NIU was uniquely situated to weather the storms of the past year due to our strong leadership,” Doherty said. “We wanted to see what we could learn from that to apply in our own work.”

Mayer shared the sentiment.

“We knew we wanted to focus on philosophies of leadership given the overarching intent of the ALDP program,” Mayer said. “This year provided the unique opportunity to learn about leadership principles for crisis management as they unfolded in real time.”

The result was a series of interviews – albeit virtually – with leaders from NIU and around the conference.

“We interviewed campus leaders at the forefront of guiding our campus through the pandemic,” Reyman said. “We captured how campus leaders perceived their work over the past year and their reflections on their experiences: lessons for the short-term and long-term, how they adapted, and (what they perceived as their) biggest challenges and successes.”

Mayer said that meeting with leaders from NIU – and from other universities – offered a unique insight.

“It has provided me with a huge amount of respect for our leadership – not in terms of a power differential – but in terms of humanity,” Mayer said. “I think the health and social justice crises faced this year brought to light the talents and service mindset of our leadership.”

Gregory agreed.

It was inspiring to hear about all the work (that occurred) to support everyone during these challenging times,” Gregory said. “We learned about other MAC schools and had great sessions where we compared notes on how things work at our various institutions.”

Mayer said while they interviewed a variety of leaders, there was a clear and consistent message throughout.

“It was clear to me that every single person who is currently in a leadership role put the needs of students, faculty, and staff above all else when making extremely hard decisions,” Mayer said. “Prior to this year, I had never really given much thought to the personal characteristics required for excellent leadership. I would say I learned the importance of an open mindset, empathy, and clear communication.”

The cohort said that McEvoy’s support was an integral part of the process and they appreciated his leadership throughout the year.

“Chad was an excellent mentor who helped guide our discussions and shape the experience for us,” Doherty said.

Special thanks the following individuals who generously shared their time and expertise during this project: Kelly Wesener Michael, Jerry Blazey, Vernese Edghill-Walden and Matt Streb.