Ways of Creating Sustainable Education Programs for Students-Part III

Once you and your team have identified the shared vision and worked out the details in a stakeholder strategy session, the next step is to outline the action for achieving those strategies and to set up an implementation timeline.  Sometimes, in the rush to get a program implemented, planners will skip over this essential step.  However, this is the step where vision meets intentionality.  It is also the space where fear, uncertainty and the management of change can be successfully addressed.  Since we are talking about creating educational programs for students, let us look more closely at the value of this step from a student organization perspective.

As the new SGA advisor, I inherited a governance board where the leaders hosted events out of tradition and habit, but without vision or intentionality.  The other advisor and I met with the Executive Board (E-board) for a series of strategy sessions on the purpose of SGA and the institutional mission of student engagement and the development of student leaders.  From those discussions, we were able to outline a SGA student engagement strategy for the campus.  This strategy included the redesign and implementation of a stronger governance structure that increased student voice, ongoing leadership training for and by the students, and a realignment of SGA resource to better support student engagement on campus and conference participation off campus.

Although I participated in this process many times with colleagues, it was not until I worked with students on this massive project that I began to truly understand the value of outlining goals and creating an implementation timeline.  This was the first time these students had ever participated in a major strategic planning initiative and they expressed their unease in managing the student reaction to change.

In order to quell their concerns and put the ownership back on them, I coached students into understanding that outlining the action steps with a comfortably paced implementation timeline would help them feel less overwhelmed and the student body less resistant to the change.

In the first stages of communicating this vision to the student body and the initial pushback, this timeline became invaluable to the SGA leaders because they were able to effectively communicate the new strategic plan to the students they served.  The result of this process was a dramatic increase in student attendance at weekly SGA meetings (from spring semester attendance of nine students to fall attendance of 30-50 students per meeting) and an increased confidence by students that their concerns and suggestions for campus-wide improvements were going to be heard.

In the next article, I will discuss how to implement a comprehensive assessment process that is aligned with the programmatic goals and that can be used for evidence-based programmatic improvements.

Ways of Creating Sustainable Educational Programs for Students- Part II


snailshellDiversify the Stakeholders Around the Table

Have you ever participated in a program, initiative or event and quickly realized that it could have been more inclusive or planned better? I have found that even when we have a goal of creating an inclusive campus environment, we often fail because we leave stakeholders out of the conversations. For example, have you examined your planning group to ensure representation of varied voices are around the table? How often have you learned that you held an event on a Saturday because unwittingly, you excluded devoted members of religions that practice their Sabbath on a Saturday? Have you participated in the design of a new building and failed to create a unisex bathroom space for a student born sexually ambiguous because it never occurred to you that these students exist? These are just two of many dilemmas that campus administrators struggle to answer every day, but could do better if they were more intentional about who was sitting around the table.


While program planners are not able to host events where every group can attend or implement initiatives that serve every student in every case, sincere efforts must be made to implement opportunities that do not exclude students because of their group affiliations. We want to alleviate a backlash or concerns by groups of people when planning campus initiatives, so we need to be intentional about who we have around the table. As campus administrators, the more we are able to engage the diversity of voices on our campuses, the better our end programs are and the more likely our students will be prepared to lead in this increasingly diverse society.


When we exclude diverse voices, we are teaching students that it is okay to exclude; however, this is not what we want our future leaders of America to learn or believe. If we want better social systems in our society, then we must model working with diverse others for our students. In Part I of this series, I shared the importance of finding our mutual or shared goal. However, even as we can agree on the goal, we must also provide opportunities for a variety of stakeholders to be part of process that leads to that end. Be aware that with the inclusion of more voices, the planning process may take a little longer and may require some delicate facilitation, but the end results are more likely to be strong, sustainable and have a positive impact (I’ll talk more about the timeline in Part III)


I like to think of it this way: When we include diverse groups, particularly students on committees, they can learn a number of skills including how to negotiate, manage conflict, and build their professional network or their confidence. These leadership qualities can position them for greater leadership roles in our society. More importantly, these same students can become influential alumni, financial supporters of our institutions, and the best recruiters of prospective students.


We don’t always know where our students will end up, but if we include them in the planning process and model proper attitudes, skills and techniques of inclusion, then when they become powerful educators, lawyers, investors, politicians and more, then chances are likely that they will be inclusive and make similar decisions that are sustainable over the long term and that benefit our society.


Ways of Creating Sustainable Educational Programs for Students-Part I

snailshellI have had the awesome pleasure of leaving a legacy of programs at past institutions of higher education. When discussing my process with a new professional in the field, I found myself excited at sharing the details of how I have created sustainable programs that continue to exist at campuses where I have been employed. I hope that you will find this information useful as you develop your own educational programs.

In this five part series, I will share with you 1) The importance of starting with a mindset that you are creating a legacy program; 2) How stakeholders help create a structurally strong foundation; 3) Why outlining your end goals and creating a timeline will be invaluable to your process; 4) Why you should design the program around these goals; and 5) How to use the program design to create a comprehensive assessment process and implement continuous improvements.

Start with the mindset and philosophy that your goal is to create a legacy program. As a leader, your primary goal should be to leave a legacy. If we start with the mindset of helping students, then no matter how we feel about our leaders, we focus on ways to serve and develop students. If you have the right mindset, then you are not likely to create programs for your own honor and promotion. I may not have received any real credit or a campus reward or acknowledgement for any number of programs that I created at former campuses, but I take pride in knowing that these programs and initiatives continue to exist and benefit students who I may never meet. If we want students to be prepared to effectively lead in our increasingly diverse society, then we need to create programs that are inclusive, practical, and experiential. But this all starts with the right mindset.

I have worked on campuses where staff felt that senior leaders and department heads lacked knowledge, lacked vision, didn’t support staff, and even used them as a scapegoat for others’ mistakes. Despite these real factors, we are in the business of serving students. When we start with the right mindset, we are well positioned to do our best to work around the political and bureaucratic quandaries that can hijack our ability to effectively serve students.

I encourage new professionals that if you want to exhibit good leadership skills and leave a legacy, then plan to leave the institution stronger than when you arrived. Prepare a plan of action that is solid and inclusive for stakeholders in every part of the institution, increasing the likelihood of them buying in and supporting the vision.

Although, the details have changed slightly, check out three programs I created in collaboration with students, faculty and staff at Syracuse University. The Diversity Business Summit was a collaboration with students in the African-American Male Congress who wanted more internship opportunities with major companies and corporate recruiters who wanted to hire more diverse students. We started with a strong foundation and created developmental opportunities for both the students and the corporate recruiters. A number of university offices have graciously supported this program since its founding.

Another great program that was started under the premise of bringing both the college and Greater Syracuse communities together was the Gospel Explosion. It has since expanded to something greater than I even imagined, but both communities look forward to this program every year. An inclusive desire and mindset helped set these programs up for success.

In Part II, I will discuss why stakeholders are instrumental to developing a structurally strong foundation for the legacy program.