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PEL space project team members Julie Selander, Jeff Sperling, Ann Kranz, Simin Hickman.

President's Emerging Leaders on the space project team: left to right, Julie Selander, Jeff Sperling, Ann Kranz, and Simin Hickman.

Emerging leaders take on classroom space challenge

Improvement spotlight of the month

By Meredith Fox

From Brief, September 14, 2005

Faced with shrinking resources, the University is making the most of what it has. Classroom space is one critical resource; staff talent is another.

Leaders are looking for ways to do more with the 300 classrooms in 63 buildings on the Twin Cities campus. They also need to develop the next generation of U leadership. Last year, a project called "Space: The Next Frontier" did both.

Four staff members worked with key U offices and administrators to tackle a very big problem--using 24,000 general-use classroom seats to serve nearly 50,000 students. After months of hard work, they presented recommendations in June that could significantly reduce the immediate need for more buildings and debt service and increase convenience for the whole U community.

"At the beginning, the data meant nothing to me. By the end, when I was writing my portion of the report, I was surprised by how much I now know."

The Space Project is a great example of how the President's Emerging Leaders (PEL) program works. Now entering its fifth year, PEL taps the knowledge, skills, and energy of motivated U staff members to develop their leadership while working on urgent priorities.

"PEL was demanding and rigorous and ultimately very rewarding," says Ann Kranz, a member of the Space Project team, whose regular job is in the School of Social Work. Kranz says it was one of the hardest years of her life, but she would do it all over again. "It's amazing to work for an employer who has put so much investment in my professional development."

Each year, U leaders nominate staff members in whom they see leadership potential to participate in PEL, administered by the Office of Human Resources. The nominees then are invited to submit applications, and a review committee selects a cohort of 20 to 25 participants. The 12-month program includes an individual development plan, educational seminars, and coaching.

The other major PEL component is group leadership projects, identified by U leaders to address strategic questions with a University-wide impact. The 2004-05 projects addressed not only space, but finance processes, digital archiving, human resources leadership, and multicultural affairs.

The high stakes of space

In the case of the Space Project, the priority came from President Bruininks. Executive associate vice president Al Sullivan signed on as executive sponsor. Scott Martens, director of the Office of Service and Continuous Improvement, coached the team because of the project's tie to efficiency and improvement issues.

The Space Project team members themselves came from a wide variety of offices on the Twin Cities and Crookston campuses: Kranz, a project director for online resources related to violence against women; Simin Hickman, director of the Technology Support Center in the Office of Information Technology; Julie Selander, senior associate director for One Stop Student Services; and Jeff Sperling, director of Crookston's technology support services.

Office of Classroom Management (OCM)

OCM is accountable and responsible for all issues in Twin Cities central classrooms. This includes 300 classrooms and 24,000 student seats in 63 buildings. A Web site serves as the primary vehicle to provide communications and services with an integrated gateway for all central classroom content. For more information, see the Office of Classroom Management.

The group worked with Steve Fitzgerald, director of classroom management, who oversees the 300 central classrooms that they examined, and members of Fitzgerald's team as well as other key stakeholders. Michaeleen Fox, director of the Office of Space Management, acted as subject expert and gave important feedback. Together, they helped to identify and advance common-sense ways to get the most out of existing classroom space.

Classroom space availability directly impacts faculty members, college administrators, and students. Students carry expectations about when they do or do not prefer to have classes, particularly when they are balancing school, a job, and an internship. Faculty members tend to request classroom space at peak times.

"No one manages space inefficiently on purpose--we all want to do what is right," says Fitzgerald.

Tackling space management was not a first choice for every member of the team, but they were all willing to give the project a shot. The work included weekly videoconference meetings to span the Crookston-Twin Cities distance, a grueling series of focus group and interviews, intense data analysis, and several drafts of the final report. Now that it's complete, all of them report great satisfaction with the process and product.

"At the beginning, the data meant nothing to me," says Kranz. "By the end when I was writing my portion of the report, I was surprised by how much I now know...and how much I really care about the outcome, because I really understand the impact of the issue on the big picture."

Hickman says she was impressed by all it takes to schedule classes at a university this size and by how hard the OCM staff works. She also got a better appreciation of how the U operates and is funded.

All the members were surprised by the intense politics of the issue.

"Stakeholders had a significant investment in our project," says Kranz. "Learning to navigate politics like that will serve me in future positions at the University."

The group's key recommendations:

Fitzgerald says the team's work independently validated OCM's direction and broadened its base of support. And Sullivan is working on implementation, including consultation with undergraduate deans and other key stakeholders and assigning the recommendations to an administrative task force in the strategic positioning process.

"The PEL team did the visioning, now we need to push forward and get this implemented," says Martens. "We need to make sure this doesn't end up on a bookshelf. We need to bring it to fruition."

For the team itself, making a significant impact on behalf of the U feels good.

"We accomplished an amazing amount in a year," says Sperling.

PEL--helping to transform the U

Typically, it's the people at the top of an organization--the CEOs, vice presidents, and directors--that everybody hears about. But far too often, not as much thought is given to how a leader rose to the top. Who helped her along the way? How did he gain the necessary skills to serve in leadership?


PEL was created in 2001 to identify, prepare, and support the next generation of University leaders. Each year, a new cohort of P&A, civil service, and bargaining unit staff engages in structured but flexible development that prepares them to provide significant leadership at the U. For more information about participating or to learn more about PEL alumni, see the President's Emerging Leaders.

The PEL administrative team identifies group leadership projects that address essential strategic questions facing the U. Projects are designed to enhance participants' understanding of these complex issues, expose them to the scope and depth of U departments and functions, strengthen their team experience, provide current U leaders with new perspectives and ideas for addressing long-range issues, and expand the culture of leadership beyond PEL participants.

2004-05 PROJECTS

Office of Service and Continuous Improvement

Space: The Next Frontier

Enterprise Financial System
Business Process Improvement

University Information Assets
Re-defining the University Archives in a Digital Age

Office of Human Resources
Leadership Development Project

Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs
Establishing a Vision for the Future

Good management means that forward-thinking organizations help to identify and develop leadership capacity within to make sure they have people ready to step into positions when they need them.

"To transform the University as envisioned by the president and Board of Regents, training and engaging our best and brightest future leaders is of utmost importance," says Martens.

PEL was created in 2001 to fulfill this critical need. For the organization, it helps to ensure that talent is available to lead initiatives, manage projects and people, and operate with integrity, according to PEL coordinator Beth Zemsky. For the participants, it provides experience and visibility necessary to excel in their current roles and to eventually move into different and more challenging roles at the U.

Members of the Space Project team demonstrate the range of motivations for applying. Selander had participated in OHR's development opportunities through the Women's Leadership Institute; she wanted more in-depth experience and training. Hickman thought that, with 25 years of experience at the U, it was time to try something new and learn more about its diverse units. Kranz, in one position for six years, felt it was time to discover areas at the U for which she might want to develop. Sperling thought PEL sounded interesting and he knew it would be a way to expand his systemwide network.

It was not a hard sell to convince Sullivan to contribute to the program, and he was not disappointed.

"The team was fantastic," says Sullivan. "I was impressed by their work product and believe that they illustrate the talent and commitment of people at the U. We must provide opportunities for our best people to grow--this is one of the main things we should be doing."

Beyond the skills they gained, the Space Project team walks away with life-long friends and colleagues.

"Our team was the best part," says Selander.

This fall, the fifth PEL cohort gets to work. Projects for 2005-06 will be designed to support the strategic positioning implementation task forces, whose work is now getting underway U-wide.

Stay tuned for news about a frontier near you.

For more information

To learn more about the President's Emerging Leaders Program, contact:

Beth Zemsky, coordinator
Leadership & Organizational Effectiveness
Office of Human Resources

To learn more about conducting campus meetings using video conferencing, contact:

Meredith Fox is community relations coordinator for the Office of Service and Continuous Improvement.

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