New leadership academy invests in its own CoE staff

In March 2016, Leah H. Jamieson, the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering and Ransburg Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, rolled out an initiative to transform the College into a more efficient, transparent, and inclusive operation.

She challenged all CoE staff members to bring fresh new ideas to the table. One of the leading concepts to emerge was the brainchild of Professional Master’s Program Administrator Eric VandeVoorde, who proposed the first-ever Purdue Engineering Staff Leadership Academy (PESLA), a program exclusively offered to CoE Administrative/Professional (A/P) and Management/Professional (M/P) staff members.

“At its core, PESLA is for staff, by staff,” explained VandeVoorde. “The University has excellent professional development resources already in place, but this was an opportunity for targeted learning within the College. Purdue University sets a standard for excellence in all areas, and we want to carry that torch as staff members, too.”

PESLA is designed like an academic program, “which is why an application process, orientation, core curriculum, electives, and graduation are all incorporated into the program,” VandeVoorde said. PESLA meets twice each month for two hours over the period of two years. Currently, 11 employees spanning all areas of CoE are enrolled, and the first session commenced in February, a little less than one year after the idea was hatched and subsequently green-lighted by a group of CoE panelists.

“PESLA is a great concept,” said Darshini Render, who serves as the CoE’s assistant director of Student Success and is an inaugural participant. “For me, the more involved I am, the more I enjoy my work at Purdue.”

The academy‘s cohort model will teach participants to become better leaders in their respective CoE units, as well as show them how to be valuable contributors to broader institutional goals. The participants will explore real-world case studies, engage in small group discussions and interactive presentations, complete a project of their choosing, and learn to think beyond their respective administrative areas. PESLA will provide staff members the tools to facilitate strategic thinking and to be more forward-oriented in their leadership.

“The more skilled we can be as staff members, the more effectively we can aid our students. As staff, all of our roles, whether directly or indirectly, are ultimately in service of our students,” VandeVoorde shared.

Render considers this opportunity a tool and stepping stone to her future professional goals.

“I aspire to be a higher education leader one day,” she said. “I like to understand the big picture and learn how to streamline operations to be efficient. This program will provide a solid institutional knowledge that will eventually benefit professional staff members to align their work and strategically contribute to the University’s goals.”

The probable dividends of PESLA include improved retention among staff participants, enhanced staff recruitment power, expanded connections between CoE and University staff, and the potential for spin-off presentations, projects, and publications.

“In my experience, staff in the College of Engineering are interested in continuous learning and improvement,” said VandeVoorde, echoing Render’s thoughts. “I am thankful that Dean Jamieson, the College, and the panelists were determined to make this investment of resources in us as a group.”

Also facilitating and collaborating on this project are the leadership team of Cristina Farmus, managing director of the Davidson School of Chemical Engineering; Marsha Freeland, Academic Affairs coordinator; Will Sondgerath, CoE administrative director; and Steve Duket, managing director of the School of Industrial Engineering.