The yearlong program gives GW scholars and administrators opportunities to network and gain leadership skills.
By Ruth Steinhardt
The 16 fellows of the inaugural cohort of the George Washington University Academic Leadership Academy (GWALA) completed their fellowships in June. During a socially-distanced graduation ceremony, they presented their capstone projects and the leadership lessons they learned during one of the stranger years in the university’s history.
The yearlong program, established in 2019 by the Office of the Provost and overseen by Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Christopher A. Bracey, is a skill-building, networking and professional development opportunity for current and aspiring academic leaders across GW’s schools and units.
“GWALA is an important example of the university’s commitment to cultivate from within our own ranks a new cohort of innovative and impactful academic leaders,” Mr. Bracey said.
Fellows—who included deans, professors, institutional directors and administrators—met throughout the academic year for sessions designed to develop and enhance their leadership capacity. They heard from GW senior leadership, learned about their own professional strengths and participated in seminars and workshops on topics including emotional intelligence, setting a vision and leading in a crisis.
At the GWALA graduation, Jonathon Grooms, assistant professor of curriculum and pedagogy and co-director of GWTeach in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, discussed the importance of communication among team members. He also highlighted the need for leaders to provide clear insight into their thinking related to decisions and give the “why” behind responses.
As the capstone of their GWALA experience, each fellow was expected to complete a project applying their new leadership skills and principles in a GW context. Disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic made some projects untenable as originally conceived, while others took on new challenges and dimensions.
Melissa Napolitano, professor of prevention and community health in the Milken Institute School of Public Health, is also the director of the school’s prevention and community health doctoral programs. Her original GWALA project was to bring the school’s Ph.D. program in behavioral and social sciences, one of just 27 such programs in the country, more in line with its peer programs. That included major structural changes, like transitioning from a two-year admissions cycle to a one year and strategically assessing required coursework.
But inspired by her GWALA experience, Dr. Napolitano also wanted to take on the project of aligning program admissions more closely with GW’s stated values—so she and her team comprehensively retooled the admissions review process. Excellence, for instance, would be measured both by cognitive achievements and by non-cognitive skills like resilience and persistence. To that end, the program’s faculty voted to eliminate GRE scores and grades as a triage system for incoming candidates. No application would be automatically ruled out because of low scores or grades. This year, all 69 applications to the program were reviewed by two faculty members.
“Despite the increased workload, all of our faculty were supportive,” Dr. Napolitano said. “We felt this was an important initiative for us as a faculty to make sure we were promoting diversity and inclusion, and that we had a constellation of students in our department who represented all those different variables and strengths.”
Dr. Napolitano said working with her GW colleagues from across schools and disciplines was one of the great advantages of participation in GWALA.
“I had the time and space to learn from their experiences and take time to reflect on my own skills and opportunities to improve,” she said. “Like anything else, leadership is a lifelong process. People aren’t necessarily born as leaders—there are concrete skills you can cultivate along the way.”
Melissa J. Perry, professor and chair of environmental and occupational health in the Milken Institute SPH, served as adviser and mentor to GWALA fellows. As she watched them present their projects and lessons learned during a socially-distanced graduation ceremony in June, she was moved.
“This was our inaugural class, and it was a great success, even with so much interference caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, we used the pandemic and the multiple disruptions that higher education is currently having to navigate as material to educate our fellows on strategies for leadership in a crisis,” Dr. Perry said. “I was so proud and impressed by the growth our fellows displayed during their final presentations. Their lives, like all of our lives, had experienced major disruptions and here they were putting forward insightful perspectives on what leadership meant to them based on what they had learned from GWALA.”
The nomination process for next year’s GWALA cohort is now open. Eligibility requires a minimum of five years’ professional experience in a university setting; identifying a project to focus on during the program; one to three professional references; and an interest in serving in an academic leadership position at GW. The nomination process closes Aug. 5. For more details and to meet the graduating fellows, please visit the Academic Leaders Portal.
The complete roster for the graduating Class of 2020 Fellows is as follows:
- Ayman El Tarabishy
GW School of Business
Deputy Chair, Department of Management
Executive Director, International Council for Small Business
- Melissa Feuer
College of Professional Studies
Associate Dean for Student and Academic Affairs
- Kathleen Griffith
School of Nursing
Assistant Dean, Ph.D. Program
- Jonathon Grooms
Graduate School of Education and Human Development
Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Pedagogy
- Anna Helm
Associate Teaching Professor of International Business
Director, GW Center for International Business Education and Research
- Howie Huang
School of Engineering and Applied Science
Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
- Gabrielle Julien-Molineaux
Enrollment and Student Success
Assistant Vice Provost for Graduate Enrollment
- Jisoo Kim
Elliott School of International Affairs
Korea Foundation Associate Professor of History, International Affairs and East Asian Languages and Literatures
Director, GW Institute for Korean Studies (GWIKS)
- Manya Magnus
Milken Institute SPH
Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Epidemiology
- Jovanni Mahonez
Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement
Assistant Director, Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service
- Melissa Napolitano
Professor and Director of Prevention and Community Health Doctoral Programs
- Carlos Rodriguez-Diaz
Associate Professor and Director, Community-Oriented Primary Care Program
- Megan Siczek
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences
Director and Associate Professor of the English for Academic Purposes Program
- Arturo Sotomayor
Associate Professor of International Affairs and Director of the Security Policy Studies Program
- Mark Tanner
School of Nursing
Assistant Dean for Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs
- Heather Young
Professor and Vice Chair for Education