story and photo by Annie Soisson
Aviva Must wears many hats at Tufts. She is the Morton A. Madoff Professor of Public Health, Chair of the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine in the Tufts University School of Medicine and the Dean of Public Health and Professional Degree Programs. Her research focuses on the epidemiology of obesity across the lifespan with a particular interest in physical and psychological health consequences of obesity during adolescence. Her relationship with Tufts is long and wide reaching. As a professor, administrator, and a mother of two Tufts alumna, she can appreciate the complexities of a large university.
Her bright, colorful office in Boston suits her well, and when I recently met with her, she enthusiastically launched into conversation about her experience as a participant in the Academic Leadership Development (ALD) Program. The program was piloted in the fall of 2008 as a joint effort between the Office of the Provost, the Office of Development and Training in Human Resources, and CELT. The series of five half-day sessions addrsses the multiple roles and responsibilities of an academic leader at Tufts, including how leaders act as stewards of their schools as well as the university, and as agents of change. Participants have the opportunity to enhance their leadership, communication and conflict resolution skills, and learn to be effective choaches and mentors. For some like Aviva, new to her role as Chair, this program was well-timed. “I learn best in a classroom setting, and I was a willing student – it was an opportune time for me since I was just beginning my new role.” Others in the course, she said, “wished they had done this earlier on” in their tenure. “ALD would be a valuable early experience for new people.” She comments that inasmuch as the administration promotes faculty into these positions, it is a credit to senior administration that they invest thought and resources into supporting their continued professional development.
“When I became Chair, I didn’t consider I would represent Tufts differently than I had as a faculty member. It was a mind-changing perspective. I found that I needed to develop the soft skills, like communication and conflict resolution. I had to think about how you get people to plan, and how to effect change. A lot is new. I didn’t appreciate how challenging it would be to juggle the two administrative roles of department chair and academic dean, while keeping a research career going.”
Must cites the guest presenters as a strength of the ALD program. “Some of what was most interesting was listening to the Provost and President reflect on their own personal leadership lessons. They offered that that one often has to think about leadership from a meta level. For example, how do you align your time use and your goals? Larry, for example, actually codes his appointments and compares his goals with how he actually spends his time over the year. Jamshed speaks about the importance of humility as a leader, and the power of listening.”
Another part of the experience Must particularly appreciated was the opportunity to have a longitudinal experience with colleagues – deans, department chairs and center directors. She learned a lot about the perspectives of her colleagues from the different schools. For example, she reflected, “In Arts and Sciences, it seems that being a chair is often considered a necessary evil; in the Medical School, it is a genuine honor.” This cross-school component of the program, for Must, furthered her understanding of her colleagues’ challenges and her leadership role across the university, not just in her school.
She viewed the program as an invaluable experience. In the first meeting, the group was asked to articulate their hopes and fears for the time they would spend together. For most, their greatest fear was that this could be a waste of their time. “NO ONE at the end felt their time had been wasted.” In fact, most members of the group have asked for a follow-up session for their continuing development, a sign that the experience met with the hopes of the participants.
If you would like to learn more about the ALD program, click here or on the tab labeled “Initiatives” above.
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