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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Inside the Next Leaders Fellowship

The inaugural Next Leaders Fellowship is bringing together a diverse group of information technology professionals for mentoring, coaching and community-building. Here's how the NLF participants kicked off their professional development journey.

The Next Leaders Fellowship's 2022 participants and mentors

The Next Leaders Fellowship's 2022 participants and mentors

The composition of higher education senior IT leaders continues to be overwhelmingly white and male. According to recent data from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR), just 3% of higher ed IT administrators are Black/African American and 3% are Hispanic/Latino — and experience suggests that these data are worse for senior IT roles such as CIO and CISO. The reality is that our demographics no longer reflect the realities of the institutions or the communities we serve.

While there are many leadership institutes and conferences aimed at promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in senior IT roles, very few follow through on mentoring and placing mid-level professionals into these increasingly important positions. That is the impetus behind the Next Leaders Fellowship (NLF), a framework designed  to help identify, develop and advocate for IT professionals in higher education, with a particular emphasis on people who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). The inaugural year of the NLF experience has been made possible through the generous support of Bowdoin College, a group of sponsoring organizations that share the NLF vision, and partnerships with the EDUCAUSE and NERCOMP professional associations.

The brainchild of Michael Cato, senior VP and CIO of Bowdoin College, the NLF is a one-year sponsored program that brings together invested senior mentors/leaders from an array of institutions, looking to pour their knowledge, expertise and experience into 12 mentees aspiring to be senior IT leaders. The program includes a variety of professional development experiences, community-building, mentorship and coaching focused on career and personal growth. In addition, each NLF participant will receive the sponsorship and funding to participate in a future leadership program (e.g., the Leading Change Institute). Ultimately, the goal is that each participant will be guided into a senior or succeeding role of their choosing. Since this will be the first program of its kind, NLF participants will provide input, feedback and suggestions for future cohorts.

Beginning the NLF Journey

After a stringent and thorough review of applicants' essay submissions, 12 participants from all over the United States were selected for the NLF's first cohort. The program began with a face-to-face meeting in Providence, RI, held in conjunction with the NorthEast Regional Computing Program's Annual Conference (NERCOMP). There, participants met one another as well as most mentors, and participated in a three-day experience aimed at identifying areas of focus and developing individualized plans of action for the program year. The following is a day-by-day account of the sessions and exercises that kicked off the NLF journey.

Day One

To begin, mentees took and reviewed the CliftonStrengths assessment, an online tool that measures personal strengths and potential. Each participant was asked to meet a new mentee and share their strengths. Then, we came together and talked about what each strength meant and how that could serve to augment our portfolio. In the afternoon, EAB presented data on the future of higher education, our current higher education crisis (particularly, issues of mental health and the enrollment decline), and the firm's vision for how higher education will shift in the near future. Mentees then broke for dinner, an opportunity to connect intimately with one another in informal conversations.

Day Two

Next, Cato invited two speakers to lead us in a Designing Your Life workshop that included lessons from the Nalanda's Institute Compassion-Based Resilience Training (CBRT). In preparation for the exercise, we were asked to record an activity log (noting times when you're engaged and energized), reflections (identifying what you're learning and discovering) and a personal "workview":

Activity Log

  • At the end of each day, record when you felt disengaged, bored, restless or unhappy; what you were doing; and your level of engagement and your energy level during that time.
  • Also record when you felt engaged, excited or focused; what you were doing; and your level of engagement and your energy level during that time.
  • Note moments when you experienced flow — a positive mental state of being completely absorbed, focused and involved in your activities, when you also derived enjoyment from being engaged in that activity. This concept comes from Positive Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and is often referred to as being "in the zone."

Look over your Activity Log and notice trends, insights, surprises — anything that gives you a clue about what works and doesn't work for you. Try to base your reflections on more than just a single experience. Consider using the AEIOU method for gaining insights when reflecting on your log. The key here is to be curious!

  • Activities: What were you doing? Was it structured or unstructured? What role do you play (leading, participating, speaking, listening)?
  • Environments: Where were you, and how did you feel (noisy, quiet, inside, outside, etc.)?
  • Interactions: What and who were you interacting with? New interaction or familiar? Formal or informal?
  • Objects: Were you interacting with objects or devices? Were there objects that created or supported your feeling engaged?
  • Users: Who was there, what role did they play, was it a positive or negative experience?

Our views on work and life may be based on a range of things in our lives: the places we grew up, the time we are living in, who we are surrounded by, and our personal narratives and experiences. We invite you to consider the sources of your views on work and life, and how who you are, your communities and lived experiences might inform your thoughts.

  • Reflect on and write a short summary of your workview (limit: 150 words). When using the term "work" we mean the broadest definition — not just what you do to make money or for "a job." It can be paid or unpaid; consider caregiving, contributing to the community and volunteer work as part of this definition of work. A workview is not just a list of what you want from or out of work; it is your philosophy of work and addresses questions like: Why do you work? What's work for? What defines good or worthwhile work? How does it relate to the individual, others, society? What do experience, growth and fulfillment have to do with work? What does money have to do with it? What do family and community have to do with it?
  • Reflect on and write a short summary of your lifeview (limit: 150 words). Your lifeview documents your philosophy of what matters and provides meaning in your life. Please address the values and perspectives that organize how you see and understand the world. A lifeview addresses questions like: Why are we here? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is the relationship between you and others (family, community, the world)? What is good or worthwhile? Is there a higher power in your life? If yes, how does that impact your lifeview? What is the role of joy, sorrow, justice, injustice, love, peace and strife in life?

These exercises were very beneficial in identifying when we feel most energetic and what our goals are in the long run. We often engaged in small groups (no more than three mentees) and shared on our work and lifeview worksheet. It was impactful to hear other mentees sharing their view of work and of life and how they strive to find the right balance. Of particular interest to me was imagining your career as three pathways: Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. Plan A involves your career (what you do now). Plan B involves imagining an alternative to your current career if you lose your job. And Plan C involves the wild card — if there were no constraints to whatever you can do, what would you choose to be or do? I find the wild card challenging because it requires us to think outside of our current norms/boundaries and dare to dream!

Day Three

For our final day, we continued engaging in the Designing Your Life series, digging deeper into mindfulness and occasionally standing up to practice breathing techniques and to do stretches. Using easel boards placed on the walls, we also came up with problem scenarios and things we would like to overcome. We were asked to provide alternative scenarios/suggestions/outcomes for our problem statement. For example, mine was, "I would like to network/make more connections." Mentees and mentors each wrote on the easel board suggesting possibilities for me to engage in, such as conferences, publications, socialized time and so forth. We were then encouraged to pick the top three most feasible choices to follow through on.

Overall, participants had the opportunity to engage intimately with one another and share their stories, as well as prepare for the next part of the program. As mentees, we committed to present at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference in October, where mentees will once again meet for a midterm check-in. In the meantime, the mentors have lined up monthly informative sessions such as résumé building, engaging with search firms and mindfulness sessions. Each mentee is also paired up with their mentors for a bi-weekly check-in session.

I am hopeful that this experience will strengthen my portfolio and confidence as a leader, and I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to participate with fellow NLFers. It is my hope that in the remaining months and years to follow, the NLF will attract BIPOC professionals aspiring to be senior IT leaders to join in the ranks so that we can continue to promote DEI within higher education.

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