Emory Student talk

By S.A. Reid, Contributing Writer, Campus Life

Emory Campus Life has expanded professional development opportunities with a new yearlong fellowship to prepare current high-potential staff for future student affairs executive-level leadership opportunities.

The 2018 Executive Leadership Fellowship program got underway this spring semester with its inaugural class of four fellows who will participate in range of assessment, training, and mentoring activities that support their professional growth.

Members of the class are Elizabeth Cox, director for Residential Education in the Office of Residential Life; Sherry Ebrahimi, director of Conference Services; Michael Shutt, senior director for Community; and Jane Yang, associate director of Outreach for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

The fellows were nominated by individual members of Campus Life’s Executive Leadership Team (ELT), which collectively made the final selections. As program guidelines require, those chosen have been in higher education for at least seven years; have significant management, supervision, and/or budgeting experience; excellent communication skills; and high aptitude for strategic and critical thinking.

“The program is for Campus Life staff who have been identified as high performers with potential to move into executive-level positions,” says Dona Yarbrough, senior director and senior associate dean for Learning and Innovation. 

“The fellows are people operating in particular functional areas who could really benefit from gaining broader experience and learning more about how Campus Life operates at the executive level,” she adds. “In short, the fellowship gives participants experience to help them figure out what they want to do next in their careers.”

Cox, now in her ninth year at Emory, says she is excited to be part of the first cohort and to get out of her “comfort zone” to learn other aspects of ECL in preparation for future roles in the organization.

Each fellow is assigned to a mentor who is a member of Campus Life’s ELT but not their direct supervisor. The matches are based on the fellow’s interest and the supply of mentors available to provide professional guidance, support, and opportunities.

Tomika DePriest, senior director of Communications, is mentoring Ebrahimi. Yang is teamed up with Suzanne Onorato, assistant vice president for Community. Cox and Shutt will both work with Emory newcomer David Clark, associate vice president of Finance, Administration, and Operations.

Cox, Clark, and Yarbrough in meetingLeft to right, Cox, Clark, and Yarbrough meet to discuss Campus Life's new Executive Leadership Fellowship program. (Photo credit: JB Brown)

Clark says Emory’s commitment to staff and staff development factored heavily in his decision to join the university in June.

“Staff development is important to me generally,” adds Clark. “So, when the opportunity came up to serve on the side of mentoring staff in that sense at Emory, in my mind, it was a no-brainer.”

Fellows will work with their respective mentors to customize their fellowship activities, including a capstone project. The executive-level project they will produce over the course of the program, according to Yarbrough, must address a need, match their interests, and challenge their executive-level skills. Fellowship activities will be completed in addition to the participant’s regular duties.

Additional program components include informational interviews, a leadership assessment, and access to funds for additional professional development, such as a conference or a national leadership institute.

Furthermore, each fellow will attend ELT meetings for a three-month period to get a feel for the issues and discussions that take place at the top-leadership level of Campus Life.

Cox, Ebrahimi, and Yang began last month; Shutt is set to begin in July. Their staggered start is designed to help make the mentoring process more manageable, Yarbrough says.

The fellowship is modeled after similar programs at institutions around the country.

Additionally, it helps to further burnish Emory’s national reputation as a great place to work and expands ECL’s growing suite of professional development programs that focus on key career transitional periods. That includes its Administrative Fellowship for professionals seeking experience in a different functional area.

“These professional development initiatives don’t take the place of being proactive about your own career,” Yarbrough says. “In fact, the Executive Leadership Fellowship and the Administrative Fellowship both provide a more structured opportunity for people to do just that – take charge of their own futures.”

Shutt, now in his tenth year at Emory, says he looks forward to getting an expanded view of ELC and learning from his fellowship mentor, David Clark, who brings a range of expertise in areas in which Shutt would like to become knowledgeable.

“This is really a special Campus Life opportunity,” Shutt notes. “Campus Life is really doing a great job engaging professionals at all levels in their own professional development. It speaks to the commitment of Emory Campus Life to its employees.”