Individuals raising their hands during Academic Leadership Accelerator (ALA) program.

Academic Leadership Accelerator Helps Deans, Chairs, and Directors Supercharge Successful Teams

December 6, 2022

Some leadership programs dispense inspiring appetizers of wisdom in a lunchtime workshop. CU Denver’s new Academic Leadership Accelerator (ALA) program gives CU Denver faculty leaders a nine-course meal—with ample food for thought to help them better serve students and academic goals. 

Since the ALA’s two-day launch in September, more than 40 CU Denver deans, chairs, and program directors have convened monthly for half-day ALA sessions in which they discuss leadership approaches, test them in real-world scenarios, and discover how their own ideals and experiences can inform a unique leadership style. 

November’s session explored the topic of “leading change,” and its importance was underscored by the syllabus statement: It is no exaggeration to claim that the most important thing leaders do is instigate, support, and enable improvement. “We have no shortage of leadership capacity at CU Denver, said Scott Bauer, an associate dean at the School of Education & Human Development. “Yet a truly excellent organization that wants to reach ambitious goals needs to continue to build capacity.”  

Bauer and colleague Joann Brennan, interim dean of the College of Arts & Media, co-developed the ALA by drawing from 2030 Strategic Plan discussions that highlighted professional development as a means for supporting CU Denver’s goal of being a Best Place to Work. “Every day, the decisions leaders make can impact a student coming here or not,” said Brennan. “It impacts a faculty member feeling felt valued or not, it empowers a staff member to lead in their areas of expertise or not. Our people are our greatest asset, and leading with intention makes a difference in people’s lives.”  

Scott Bauer and Joann Brennan

Beyond the monthly in-person sessions, ALA participants (who can participate in varied modes, including online-only) engage with readings and discussions hosted on Canvas. As the year progresses, Bauer said, curricula will increasingly intersect with CU Denver strategic priorities, including equity, enrollment planning, and program development.  

All ALA participants get member access to an extensive leadership resource and training library through Academic Impressions, a Denver-based firm that led the two-day September kickoff session. Academic Impressions’ CEO Amit Mrig was already motivated to partner on CU Denver’s burgeoning leadership initiative as a Colorado native but got “hooked” when he read the 2030 Strategic Plan. “I’ve read a lot of strategic plans, probably 200 in the last five to 10 years. This one is different,” Mrig said. “The idea of becoming the nation’s first equity-serving institution isn’t just bold. It’s worthy of our aspiration and commitment.” 

In broad terms, the ALA reinforces the importance of perpetual learning even for established leaders (Provost Constancio Nakuma has attended each session so far) and underscores that being a University for Life will drive CU Denver’s trajectory as the university enters its next half century. That learning and constant evolution extends to ALA’s organizers. “I will feel like this is a significant missed opportunity if we don’t—each and every session, and each and every week—learn and adjust,” Bauer said. “And we’re doing that.”