PESLA second cohort graduates; third cohort announced

Twelve members of the second Purdue Engineering Staff Leadership Academy (PESLA) cohort graduated on Jan. 27, 2021.

Photo of PESLA Cohort 2.0
PESLA Cohort 2.0 and leadership team (2019-2021)

Dean Mung Chiang participated in the virtual ceremony and offered his congratulations to the group.

“It has been most challenging for all of us since last March. I want to thank you for being resilient and carrying on during these times. You have had a lot on your plate. You didn’t have to do this, but you did because you care,” Chiang said. He went on to welcome the ten new third cohort members, who will start their two-year PESLA program on Feb. 9.

PESLA began as a staff-inspired transformation proposal that was developed in 2016 by College staff members Eric VandeVoorde, Marsha Freeland and Cristina Farmus.   The academy's cohort model teaches participants to become better leaders in their respective College units and shows them how to be valuable contributors to broader institutional goals.

“It’s a self-sustaining professional development program - for staff, by staff,” explained VandeVoorde.

The participants 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. According to VandeVoorde, “When we have opportunities for development and can seek a path for self-directed growth, it leads us to be more engaged in our work.”

Chiang, when talking about reviewing the project posters from the second cohort, said, “I see hope. Purdue Engineering has a bright future ahead of us.”

PESLA is led by five staff members who share responsibility for leading the cohort. The PESLA leadership team is comprised of VandeVoorde, Freeland, Janet Beagle, Nina Robinson, and Will Sondgerath, assistant dean for staff.  As Freeland and VandeVoorde step down from the leadership team, Will Gwin and Sue Khalifah, members of the second cohort, will be joining the leadership team.   

"PESLA has proven invaluable during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I don’t think I could’ve met many of the challenges of the past two years without being in PESLA,” said OPP’s Joe Tort.

Members of the graduating cohort include:

Sarah Allard, AAE

Will Gwin, CoE Communications

Isabel Jimenez-Useche, ENE

Susan Khalifah, CE

Elizabeth Pearson, IE

Andrew Pierce, EPICS

Xiaomin Qian, ME

DeEtte Starr, CoE Communications

Aurie Swartz, OFE

Sheri Tague, ME

Joe Tort, OPP

Chad Wright, ITaP

“The program gave me more leadership opportunities within my department and group,” said AAE’s Sarah Allard.

“My favorite part of PESLA was the exchange of ideas in our meetings,” said ENE’s Isabel Jimenez-Useche.

Additionally, members of the third cohort were welcomed to the PESLA program. They are:

Karin Ejendal, BME

Jennifer Gray, ChE

Diana Harbison, GEPP

Karen Hull, CoE Graduate Program

Jacqueline McDermott, CoE Graduate Program

Curt Oeschsle, FYE

Jennifer Strickland, OPP

Kate Theobald, CoE Communications

Yuxiang Wang, ECE

Melissa Westendorf, Business Office

CoE Communications’ Will Gwin said relationships he made in PESLA were very valuable. “I had 11 colleagues whom I now look upon as friends,” he said.

In closing, Marsha Freeland advised the new cohort to “take advantage of the experiences and opportunities to stretch and grow” that PESLA provides.

A recording of the recognition event, along with information about PESLA, can be found here.