March 3, 2022

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to introduce our newest professional development opportunity for staff and faculty. Beginning this spring, I will be offering an Emerging Leader professional development program. This program is designed to identify, support, and prepare mid-career professionals for possible career advancement in higher education. Participants will share insights and experiences, gain understanding of various aspects of the college beyond their current subject matter expertise, deepen their knowledge of higher education in the United States, and advance their own leadership knowledge and abilities. The Program will require a six-month commitment, with monthly meetings that will include discussion of readings, case studies, and activities that help participants practice leadership, change management, and team building. Experience in the Emerging Leader program will help participants assess and apply their individual leadership strengths, expand their networks across campus, and envision possible career paths. Both staff and faculty are encouraged to consider participation.

For the coming year, several additional personal and professional development opportunities will also be available for staff and faculty. Personal development opportunities that help staff learn more about themselves have been a focus of the Staff Council, which will continue this spring and during the Staff Retreat in May. Additionally, for those staff members needing to learn specific, job-related skills essential to performing their work—particularly as the nature of that work changes—vice presidents and their departments will be either allocated professional development funds or provided opportunities to partner with others across campus in learning new tools and strategies. Finally, we will be offering a series of online supervisor training modules that cover basic content areas such as recruitment and hiring, performance evaluations, and the connection of implicit bias to decision-making.

These opportunities are a continuation of efforts to build and preserve our talent base on campus, which remains a cabinet-level priority. We understand that many factors contribute to creating a workplace where people want to stay. Overall compensation, particularly in an era of increased inflation, remains top of mind, and we will continue to make increases to the extent possible and when aligned with our strategic priorities. Last year, a survey of staff revealed that implicit bias training was a top area of interest; this spring, we launched an online Committing to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion module, and we look forward to more in-person opportunities to strengthen our DEI commitments. Our community grows stronger when participating in policy development, as when we introduced and refined our new approach to remote work. Engaging in social and wellness activities is also part of personal development. Although the pandemic interrupted some of these efforts, we have benefited from the joint efforts of staff, faculty, and administrators to create and offer avenues for personal and professional growth.

Efforts to expand professional development opportunities come at a time when many people are rethinking their personal priorities and professional goals, sometimes leading to staff departures. At a place like Westminster, where personal and professional connections are valued, staff exits can create both a sense of loss and increased stress for those who remain. Our turnover rate, which is 20 percent for 2021, is far below the national average of 44 percent for the education sector, but employee retention remains a concern—and departments with stiff competition from other industries or experiencing significant disruption due to the pandemic have been disproportionately affected.

Most of our staff departures have been voluntary. Based on the information collected by human resources staff and/or supervisors, the reasons for leaving are most often changes in family or medical circumstances, job or promotion possibilities outside of higher education, or significant increases in compensation. Although some staff have left, we’ve also recruited outstanding new staff members who welcome the opportunity to work at Westminster and are joining the college with talent, energy, and optimism about the college’s future. Often, they’ve heard about the college’s stellar reputation in the community and the impressive accomplishments of our students, staff, and faculty from people outside of Westminster, which contributes to our ability to recruit strong, diverse applicants locally, regionally, and nationally. These newest staff members—along with the staff and faculty who continue to be here—will help to ensure our longevity and success.

Our senior campus leaders are committed to building a culture of collective success and doing more to provide personal and professional development opportunities. Staff—and many faculty, in addition to teaching and research support—need and deserve opportunities to engage in productive self-development and reflection while updating skill sets, exercising supervisory roles with competence and compassion, and sharpening leadership abilities that prepare them for possible career advancement.

For those staff and faculty who are interested in the new Emerging Leader program, please consider providing a statement of interest to Emmalee Szwedko by April 15, 2022. Participants who are selected will be notified within two weeks. Meetings are tentatively scheduled on:

  • May 20, noon–1:00 p.m. Lunch and orientation
  • June 14, 3–5:00 p.m.
  • August 9, 3–5:00 p.m.
  • September 13, 3–5:00 p.m.
  • October 11, 3–5:00 p.m.
  • November 8, 3–5:00 p.m.
  • December 13, 3–5:00 p.m.

The first cohort will explore the topics:

  • Higher education missions, models, and major functional areas
  • Characteristics of ethical and effective leadership
  • Organizational structures, scope, and responsibility
  • Understanding, assessing, and leading change
  • Creating inclusive cultures that foster equity and belonging
  • Charting future paths
  • Topics suggested by participants

Each cohort will be limited to eight members. Those interested may self-nominate or be nominated by a supervisor. Selection will be based on exceptional performance in their current role, a significant appetite for learning, and high potential for advancement in leadership. Interested participants should prepare a one-page statement that summarizes their current position and history at Westminster, additional pertinent work experience (if helpful), reasons for interest, and desired outcome for program participation.

I am firmly committed to our role as a learning institution, not just for our students, but for ourselves as well. I hope you look to these new developments as tangible opportunities to learn and grow.