GW Academic Leadership Academy Welcomes Third Cohort and Celebrates Outgoing Second Cohort

Participants across the university commit to skill-building seminars and projects.

Several members of GWALA's outgoing cohort.
Members of the outgoing GWALA cohort. (William Atkins/GW Today)
September 15, 2022

By Greg Varner

More than 20 members of the George Washington University academic community have been selected to participate in the third cohort of the GW Academic Leadership Academy (GWALA).

Created in 2019 by Provost Christopher Alan Bracey, then vice provost for faculty affairs, and then-Provost Forrest Maltzman, GWALA presents a curriculum designed to help faculty academic leaders hone their leadership skills and build professional associations across the university. Seminars are offered on topics such as conflict management, staff engagement, emotional intelligence and effective communication skills.

“The Academic Leadership Academy enables our academic leaders to step outside their day-to-day functions in order to dedicate time to professional development, relationship-building and enhancing their skill sets — all qualities that they will exercise in their roles as they work to advance the university’s mission,” Bracey said.

The incoming cohort of newcomers was joined by GWALA participants from the previous academic year at a combined graduation/welcome lunch on Friday in the University Student Center.

There are 20 faculty academic leaders in this year’s GWALA cohort, including Laila F. Sorurbakhsh, assistant professor of the practice of international affairs and associate director of the Master of International Policy and Practice Program in the Elliott School of International Affairs, where she is also director for online education.

“I have heard that GWALA provides excellent cross-school networking opportunities, so I am most excited about that aspect of the program,” Sorurbakhsh said. “I have a personal inclination to never say ‘no’ to new opportunities, which is how I view this workshop—as an opportunity.”

Another member of this year’s GWALA class is Loren Kajikawa, associate professor and head of the music program in the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, housed in GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

“GWALA represents a unique opportunity to develop administrative skills and build relationships across GW,” Kajikawa said. “It also sounds like a smart idea to cultivate leadership from within the institution. Leadership and administrative skills aren't something you necessarily learn in graduate school or even as a junior faculty member. There are specific goals that I hope to achieve as program head, and I’m hoping that GWALA can provide support and encouragement along the way.”

Members of the outgoing second cohort, from the academic year 2021-22, include Imani M. Cheers, associate professor of media and public affairs. Her experience in GWALA was extremely rewarding, she said.

“We had a really rich year of workshops, discussions and team-building,” Cheers said. “It was a very introspective program, because a lot of it was looking at the way in which our personalities and our experiences impact the way we lead in academic institutions. I really appreciated the wealth of resources we had: textbooks, articles, TED talks, podcasts. It was really robust. We were able to explore the type of leaders we are and the type of leaders we want to become.”

The ability to be an effective listener, Cheers said, whether listening to faculty colleagues, staff members or students, is a key aspect of leadership emphasized by the program. She recommends the GWALA experience to anyone interested.

“I thoroughly encourage anyone at the university who is interested in learning how to be an effective leader in higher education to apply for the program,” Cheers said. “Especially for those who, like myself, were not previously in academic leadership positions, it can be very challenging to get into academic leadership. So, I encourage people who are interested to bookmark the opportunity and apply next year.”

Officials from schools and units may nominate candidates for membership in a GWALA cohort, but candidates can also apply for the program through a self-nomination process. Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Emily Hammond, who directly oversees the program, views it as an investment in GW’s future.

“Our GWALA participants bring experience, creativity and a service ethic to leadership at GW—and these leaders are thinking about how to have an even greater impact going forward,” Hammond said. “GWALA is indeed an investment both in the participants’ career development and in GW’s long-term excellence.”

GWALA participants work on individual projects relating to their experience in the program. Some incoming participants, like Sorurbakhsh, already know what they’ll be working on.

“We've been asked to select a leadership value to focus on,” Sorurbakhsh said, “and the one I've selected is ‘inclusivity.’ I believe (and I teach) that in order to be a good leader, or to make good policy, one needs to be as inclusive of diverse populations and voices as possible. Whatever I work on will take that approach.”

Kajikawa said he hasn’t decided yet what to focus on, but adds, “I’m pretty sure it will be related to diversity and inclusivity in music. How do we continue doing things that we do well while opening up opportunities for new kinds of music and new kinds of students?”

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The program allows faculty leaders to develop practical skills and build cross-university relationships.