Purdue Engineering Staff Members Graduate with High Degrees of Insight

The College of Engineering celebrated its staff members in a unique way on January 29, 2019, hosting a “graduation” geared more toward everyday progress and future collaborations than traditional “pomp and circumstance.”
(L-R): Will Sondgerath, Dean Chiang, Sue Bayley, Kathy Heath, Nate Engelberth, Jackie Baumgardt, Morgan Kuryla, Eric VandeVoorde, Nina Robinson, Darshini Render, Dawn Whitaker, Janet Beagle, Marsha Freeland, Cristina Farmus, Jun Fang

An inaugural cohort of ten administrative and management professionals reaffirmed the College’s commitment to employees’ strengths at the graduation event. This concluded the participants’ two years of learning in the Purdue Engineering Staff Leadership Academy (PESLA).

“It’s been a tremendous experience to see PESLA evolve from an ambitious proposal into an effective tool in developing the talent of our staff,” said William J. Sondgerath, the Assistant Dean for Staff and Director of Administration. He oversaw the day of staff recognition along with rest of the leadership team at the helm of the new Academy.

PESLA and its first class were assembled in 2017 with three goals in mind—contributing to the career success of individuals, to the proactive and inclusive environment for students and all others in the CoE, and to the overall excellence of Purdue University.

Jackie Baumgardt | Administrative Assistant to Head of Mechanical Engineering | "Fostering community between ME faculty and staff"
Sue Bayley | Assistant Director of WIEP | "CoE Outreach - Web page proposal project"

At a poster session open to all, each of the ten classmates presented findings from capstone research projects they had designed. Their thought-provoking explorations ranged from boosting faculty-staff-student communication to assessing engineering students’ unique strengths to creating an online course about resources for prospective graduate students.

This innovation-driven research—like all the cohort’s efforts discovering the University’s diverse offices and operations, as well as studying leadership strategy and project management skills—offered the participants two practical impacts. PESLA is aimed to help professionals not only in their current work duties, but also in future job opportunities at Purdue.

Sharing revelations through the poster session was not the only focus of the recognition event. The ten participants received a luncheon honoring their readiness to consider new possibilities.

Mung Chiang, Dean of the College of Engineering, offered his personal congratulations. “I commend this group of staff who have invested their valuable time in this excellent professional development opportunity,” he said. “It is obvious that PESLA is already beginning to pay dividends.”

Janet Beagle | Senior Director of Graduate Programs, CoE | "Grad School 101: An Online Course"
Nathan Engelberth | Director of Academic Programs, ABE | "ABET student outcomes transition"

The graduates recalled a range of additional impacts from their studies. Dr. Janet Beagle, Senior Director of Graduate Programs in the CoE, found the Academy so rewarding she has joined the team of administrators and managers already guiding the second cohort. That new class of professionals embarked on their two-year venture February 5.

“There is so much value for staff across the College to connect with each other and with other leaders on campus,” she said. Also, the capstone requirement gave her the incentive and time allotment to start developing the online course she calls Grad School 101—“something I have wanted to do for many years.”

Morgan Kuryla, an Academic Advisor at the CoE, said she learned the value of various centers of expertise available at Purdue. She has already “referred to PESLA materials [about tapping into those resources] in talking with students.”

One participant, who was grateful for the College’s readiness to invest in its own staff members, noted she had received financial assistance to complete her research project. Dr. Nina L. Robinson, Administrative Director for Environmental and Ecological Engineering, added that more administrative and management personnel should consider enrolling in the Academy.

Jun Fang | Manager of Instructional Development, EPE | "Showcase Event - Purdue Online, College of Engineering"
Kathy Heath | Program Administration Manager, External Relations, CE | "CE Professional Practice Advisory Board"

“If the goal is to grow your network and enhance your career, I would recommend it,” she said. Purdue offers its employees many professional development programs, but PESLA provides a mandate to “explore options” for your future at Purdue.

The idea for the Academy dates back to 2016, when former Dean of Engineering Leah H. Jamieson encouraged greater efficiency, transparency, and inclusivity at the College, seeking fresh ideas the staff could provide.

Eric VandeVoorde, now Director of Professional Master’s Programs, responded by proposing PESLA as an initiative “for staff, by staff,” designed like an academic curriculum. Participants in the journey must go through an application process and fulfill core requirements, and all the rigors and rewards culminate in a graduation.

That recent day of recognition prompted Dr. Beagle to mention one more set of insights she’s gained through the leadership initiative.

“It has been fun to make connections with individuals that I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to meet,” she said. The curriculum “makes me realize there are so many important roles all around campus that keep Purdue running.”

Writer: William Schmitt
Photographer: Vincent Walter

Darshini Render | Assistant Director, Student Success, CoE | "Transforming meeting culture to doing culture"
Nina Robinson | Administrative Director, EEE | Program Administration Manager, External Relations, CE | "Enhancing student success"
Dawn Whitaker | Associate Director, INSGC | "Forming the right research team"