Four years ago, West Virginia University embarked on a journey to train its managers and leaders with the knowledge that 30 percent of the workforce would be eligible to retire in 2012.
So much more has come from the development of the Mountaineer Leadership Academy.
Sabrina Cave, assistant vice president for Student Affairs Communications, was in the first class of the academy from 2008-09. Like others in the program, she says it has challenged her to refine her skills as a leader and learn the workings of the University in a way she might not have otherwise.
In the second year of the program, participants band together and tackle a challenge that will benefit the University community. Cave and her colleagues from the Alumni Association, University Relations/Web, Facilities, Career Services and the Daily Athenaeum student newspaper, developed strategies for outreach to students and young alumni. They wanted to connect students with career resources and other services while they’re at WVU and with alumni resources once they’ve graduated.
“We feel that our project has continued to make a difference and make those positive changes,” Cave said.
Cave has gone on to advise other group projects and mentor other program participants.
The academy is celebrating the graduation of its fourth group of participants on Thursday, June 14, at 3:30 p.m. in the Erickson Alumni Center. President Jim Clements will address the program graduates. Gary Boyd, assistant director of maintenance, will speak about how the program helped him as a participant.
Once they graduate from that first year of skills training, participants go on to a more involved year where they produce a team project and then continue to remain involved with shorter periods of continuing education each year.
Brice Knotts, interim director of student systems management, who is also a member of that first cohort, said the program gave him an opportunity to pursue a long-term interest in leadership.
“It’s really sparked an interest in leadership and learning more about it,” he said. “I encourage all my employees to participate in it if they can and would certainly encourage anyone else to take part.”
He said the program allows employees to share their challenges and solutions with each other and meet those outside of their usual circle of operations.
Knotts is also a mentor in the program. Every participant is able to choose someone in a leadership position at WVU from the president on down to learn from and work with throughout the program. Knotts has mentored two other participants, and three workers under his supervision are participating as well.
Knotts said it’s a “pay it forward” system. He had a mentor and now he mentors others.
“We’re mentoring the next generation of leaders at WVU that will one day run the University,” he said.
More than 100 employees are active in the program and nearly 160 applied over the last for years, though some retired or were not able to continue.
Kelli Jo McNemar, senior training and development specialist at WVU, said participants have varying levels of experience and include those who are closer to retirement, which helps to retain institutional knowledge among current employees.
The employees are gaining skills to encourage and motivate their teams at work, yet they’ve also given back tremendously to the University, she said.
The first year of the program is being restructured to account for input that participants have given over the year. One academy team project recommended training for all supervisors at the University.
WVU Training and Development is rolling out a supervisor training program which will include videos and eventually online classes. Future acceptance criteria for WVU employees interested in the academy will include completion of these supervisor training programs.
This work has gained national attention for WVU.
In 2010, universities around the country began to take notice of WVU’s Mountaineer Leadership Academy. To build the academy, McNemar collaborated with Gallup – a consulting and research organization for major corporations, and education, government and nonprofit groups around the world. Through that partnership, she was invited to present the academy’s success at the company’s Strengths in Education conference.
The program continues to create success at WVU.
One team this year wanted its goals to particularly align with the University’s 2020 Strategic Plan for the Future, and team members asked the chair of the planning committee how they could help. So they researched ways to recruit and retain international faculty and staff.
Another team has developed a tobacco-free education resource similar to AlcoholEdu to be introduced in the online student orientation. This team will be presenting its project at the National Conference on Tobacco on the topic of “Interrupting Smoking: Reaching College Students through Online Orientation Processes.”
“Here’s this group of people from across the University who had this opportunity to come together and identify an important issue for the University, not just to make recommendations but accomplish something that makes a difference,” McNemar said.
In addition to the gaining practical insights from leaders who recognize challenges and solutions, WVU also gains managers who are knowledgeable about the inner workings of the University, and have the skills to build effective teams and create a thriving workplace. The academy—offered at no charge to employees— gives generations of leaders like Cave and Knotts the ability to grow personally and for the benefit of the University, its staff and students.
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