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Duke Faculty Members Reflect on Their Year as Fellows in the ACC Academic Leaders Network

Duke faculty members Steffen Bass, Lori Bennear, Iyun Harrison, Cory Krupp and Benjamin Smallheer spent the past year representing the university in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Rather than soaring to individual or team achievements in any sporting pursuit, the Duke cohort collaborated with peers from 14 other universities to hone their leadership skills in the 2022 ACC Academic Leaders Network (ALN).

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Virginia Tech hosted the first gathering. (Photo: Abbas Benmamoun)
Throughout the year, the ACC ALN faculty fellows worked together on specific issues in communities of practice. Coming together during weekend gatherings at Virginia Tech in March, Boston College in June and the University of Virginia in September, the fellows took part in sessions to build leadership effectiveness and spent time in conversation on a range of topics. 

Each university cohort also participated in discussions with key leaders on their home campuses.

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The Duke cohort (minus Smallheer) takes a break. (Photo: Courtesy of Cory Krupp)
Nominated by their deans, the Duke ACC ALN fellows hold administrative positions in their schools. This leadership development opportunity is part of the Office for Faculty Advancement’s portfolio of programs to support faculty at critical stages of their careers and complement existing programs at the school and department level.

So, what did they get out of it? As the fellowship came to an end, the five Duke faculty members reflected on this novel experience. Here are excerpts.

Lori Bennear

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Juli Plant Grainger Associate Professor, Energy Economics and Policy, and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Initiatives, Nicholas School of the Environment

“The ACC ALN experience was fantastic. Three things really stood out. First was the opportunity to network with other academic leaders from the highly varied ACC schools. We often live in a “Duke bubble” and it was good to hear from leaders at bigger, smaller, public and private universities about how they wrestle with the same issues. Second was the communities of practice groups that worked on a specific issue together over the year. My group looked at how the different universities handle issues for non-tenure track faculty such as compensation, voting rights, contract lengths, etc. And the final highlight was working with the other participants from Duke and meeting with leaders from across Duke in small groups to ask questions and understand different leadership roles and positions.”

Iyun Ashani Harrison

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Associate Professor of the Practice of Dance, and Director of Undergraduate Studies in Dance, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

“The ACC ALN conferences and workgroups provided a crucial forum for me to investigate high-impact leadership practices as framed by significant figures in higher education. It allowed me to reflect on my leadership and envisage how I might strategize to accomplish my larger career goals. A crucial outcome of the experience is how it influenced my approach to mentoring those I lead, helping them find value in their contributions to my program.”

Cory Krupp

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Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Studies, and Associate Dean of Academic Programs and Student Affairs, Sanford School of Public Policy

“My experience was wonderful. I learned a lot more about how universities operate; the current trends affecting enrollments, finances and online programming; and the mental health issues our students are grappling with. I appreciated being able to develop a network of colleagues in similar positions. One take-away from the networking discussions was about how to delegate more effectively. Hearing about how others in my position managed their tasks and organized their staff gave me some new ideas to apply. These ideas provided not only a way to ease some of my burdens as an administrator, but it also communicated more trust in my staff members’ ability to make independent judgment calls and decisions without needing me to be looking over their shoulders all the time. It also influenced two new senior staff hiring decisions that I made, leading me to prioritize a more decentralized management approach that is consistent with what I’m trying to practice and model.”

Benjamin Smallheer

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Associate Clinical Professor, and Lead Faculty of the Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program, School of Nursing

“The ability to connect with faculty across different schools, regions and areas of study was a huge benefit. Sometimes this happened during a team-building/social event, and other times it was during a structured activity. That interdisciplinary/interinstitutional aspect was highly valuable. Additionally, meeting four other individuals from across Duke was really encouraging! I now feel I have four other people I can connect with and ask for advice from.”

Steffen Bass

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Arts & Sciences Distinguished Professor of Physics, and Chair of the Department of Physics, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

“The ACC ALN experience was great! Comparing notes with academic leaders from other institutions was a real eye-opener for me — showing how many of the challenges we face as academic leaders at Duke are systemic across academia, but also highlighting some of the more unique aspects of our institution. The ALN year provided a lot of personal growth opportunities for me with great insights about what my next development and advancement goals should be. My project in our communities of practice revolved around leadership training for department chairs and associate deans — my hope is that some of the best practices we identified can be put to good use at Duke. I will certainly miss the time with my ALN cohort and hope to keep in touch with my Duke ALN comrades.”

Main image: The Duke ACC ALN fellows with Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement Abbas Benmamoun at the University of Virginia in September; from left: Lori Bennear, Benmamoun, Benjamin Smallheer, Iyun Harrison, Cory Krupp and Steffen Bass (Photo: Courtesy of Cory Krupp)