Alyssa Panitch to Complete ELATE Program

Alyssa Panitch, professor and associate head of the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, will complete the rigorous Executive Leadership in Academic Technology and Engineering (ELATE) program next month. ELATE at Drexel™ is a national leadership development program designed to advance senior women faculty in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and related disciplines into leadership roles within their universities.

ELATE is an intensive full-year, part-time fellowship program, and Panitch was one of 12 women faculty from 11 U.S. universities selected by Drexel for its inaugural year.

“As a member of the External Advisory Board of ELATE, I was delighted that Alyssa agreed to apply and was accepted in the inaugural class of ELATE Fellows,” said Klod Kokini, associate dean of academic affairs and professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue. “Alyssa is exactly the type of faculty that the ELATE program aims at developing. She is an outstanding researcher, educator, and entrepreneur.”

Participants of the ELATE program engage in intense educational activities that cover a broad range of topics on the inner workings of academia. The activities are designed to help participants use strategic approaches to financial and resource management that enhance the missions of their organizations; adapt their leadership behaviors to effectively address strategic, operational, and relational challenges; lead and manage change initiatives within complex and dynamic academic organizations; and develop and participate in a variety of learning communities of practice that support academic organizational leadership.  

Panitch said that participating in activities with her learning community was one of the features of the program that she enjoyed most.  

“The simulations that we’ve participated in allowed us to learn about our own leadership style and about working with others who have a broad range of experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives and doing that sometimes under high stress situations. So, even though it’s a simulation, your true colors come out.”

One of her biggest takeaways from that experience is the value of speaking up. “When I feel strongly about things I need to sit down and explain why I feel strongly and why I feel like we’re missing some of the points,” said Panitch. “Even if that makes me feel uncomfortable. Even if that means rocking the boat.”  It was a transformational experience for all participants, and which led to some lasting ties.

“The biggest benefit by far is the network of really incredible women around the country--all women in engineering and computer science who are on a path to leadership, all very impressive,” said Panitch.  “I can pick up the phone and call any one of them at any time and talk to them about anything, and they can do the same, which is really nice.”

The fellowship year culminates in the completion of an Institutional Action Project, developed in collaboration with the fellows' dean or provost. Panitch, who has been involved in launching three companies, chose to study the operations and decision-making processes of start-up companies with an eye toward applying that knowledge to developing best practices for launching university centers.

Although Panitch believes that anyone, including men, could benefit from the leadership training offered through ELATE, the goal of ELATE is to increase the diversity of leaders in academe.  The percent of women full professors in engineering at four-year educational institutions is below five percent. Only about ten percent of all engineering deans are women.

There are several factors that contribute to the low numbers of women in leadership positions in academia, and ELATE aims to help women address them. Panitch was already an accomplished individual before participating in ELATE.  Now she and her fellow ELATE graduates are set to foster an even stronger community of exceptional women academic leaders with broad organizational perspectives and deep personal capacity to address emerging issues in their schools and universities, and the society they serve.

Panitch, who joined the Purdue faculty in 2006, specializes in bioorganic chemistry. Her research interests include the design and synthesis of biomaterials for drug delivery and tissue engineering and the development of biomimetic therapeutic peptides for vascular, neural and fibrotic diseases.