I can admit it now, especially since it’s in the past, but I was a bit intimidated when I saw a list of the company I’d be keeping as a member of the Frye Leadership Institute, Class of 2012. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m not confident in my skills. I received my Master’s in Library and Information Sciences in 2003 and I’ve been a librarian long enough to feel I usually know what I’m talking about. Heck, people seem to listen when I speak. I love what I do and I’m pretty good at it. It’s just that there’s something about the prestige of big name schools and impressive sounding titles that gave me pause.
Pause or no, I reminded myself that I was selected to participate for a reason. Perhaps it was to balance administrators and managers with a few people lower on the organization chart. Perhaps it had something to do with how outspoken I can be. Perhaps it was to balance the prestigious, research institutions with a locally-respected-but-not-nationally-known, small, liberal arts college. Regardless of the reason, I wasn’t going to let my momentary trepidation stop me. I packed my bags and off I went to DC.
My fellow Fryers are probably going to be surprised to read my admission of nervousness because by the second day, I was over it. That’s also when I noticed that we were becoming a cohesive group. Despite our varied backgrounds, institutions, career stages, it quickly became apparent that we all cared about the same things: thoughtful innovation and collaboration, the success of our institutions, and the success of our communities. That age-old cliché of saying the same things but talking about them with different vocabularies? We were living examples of that, but instead of being divided by those differences, we found ways to communicate and to balance and encourage each other.
If that had been it, just spending time with the other Frye Fellows would have been an amazing experience. But there was much more. We also got to listen to and speak with a cross-section of thought leaders and influential figures in higher education. Our deans were Joanne Kossuth, Vice President for Operations and CIO at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, and Elliot Shore, CIO and Director of Libraries at Bryn Mawr College. In addition to spending time with our deans, they arranged for us to hear from and speak with:
- Diana Oblinger, President and CEO of EDUCAUSE;
- Chuck Henry, President of the Council on Library and Information Resources;
- Eduardo Ochoa, outgoing Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education;
- Kathleen Santora, CEO of the National Association of College and University Attorneys;
- Craig Parker, General Counsel at the University of the District of Columbia;
- Richard Culatta, Deputy Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education;
- John Walda, President and CEO of the National Association of College and University Business Officers;
- Jenny Rickard, Chief Enrollment and Communications Officer, Bryn Mawr College;
- Jane Brown, Vice President of Enrollment Management, Northeastern University; and
- Rick Legon, President of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
Even more impressive than the fact that we had the opportunity to speak with these people was the way that every single visitor was open, frank, and honest in their discussion. Even when we asked them tough questions (and we did ask them tough questions), these people answered. Best of all, spending time talking about the issues facing higher education, in roleplaying exercises and small group discussions and even out at dinner, completely shattered our stereotypes and preconceived ideas about people in these roles.
That’s the point of Frye. These experiences taught us to let go of the prejudices and stereotypes we had about the people who don’t inhabit our particular silos in higher education. That was one of my biggest take-away from the week I spent at the Frye Leadership Institute. I wasn’t alone in these impressions. Whenever I looked at the Twitter backchannel, I saw these ideas popping up again and again. (And don’t worry if you missed all our Twitter chatter. It’s been captured and I’m working on making it accessible.)
Even though we’ve all returned to our institutions, our work is only beginning. We’ve already done preliminary work on some amazing, collaborative, and innovative projects. I’m sure you’ll hear more from the Frye Leadership Institute, Class of 2012, in the future. In the meantime, if you want to keep tabs on us, you can always follow us on Twitter (a list which represents 34 of the 41 fellows).
I have to laugh now about that initial sense of intimidation, but I can still understand it. If you’re considering applying to a future iteration of the Frye Leadership Institute, but are hesitating for whatever reason, let me reassure you: please just apply. If you don’t think your small institution can afford it, there are scholarships. If it’s a feeling of confusion about whether or not you’ll belong, don’t worry. You will. Innovation is why the Frye Fellows came together, and innovation is something that cuts across school type and size and the roll you play in your institution, and even across the academy writ large. I went to Frye a little unsure. I came away not only knowing that I belonged, but also with the feeling that I had found my peer group. As I said to my fellow Fryers on our final night together, I feel as though I’ve found my tribe.