Leslie Jo Shelton, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Higher Education, The University of Arkansas
August 31, 2018
Like many of my friends and colleagues in academia, the rhythm of my life is centered around the academic year. The beginning of the academic year is an exciting time for reflection, organizing new school supplies (never gets old!), and envisioning the possibilities for the year ahead. I am reflecting now on a particularly meaningful experience from the past year that has shaped how I think about my life as a student affairs faculty member. The NASPA Emerging Faculty Leader Academy (EFLA) was one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences of my faculty career thus far—both personally and professionally. In an effort to share words of thanks, as well as to encourage others to apply for this opportunity, I share reflections on the EFLA experience.
The EFLA is a one-year program for selected student affairs faculty members who represent each of the seven NASPA regions and who have been faculty for no more than three years. Each EFLA cohort participates in monthly video professional development sessions, as well as in-person gatherings at the NASPA Annual Conference, and personalized “two-on-one” sessions in the summer with the senior faculty leaders. We also had an outstanding graduate assistant who, along with the senior faculty leaders, coordinated programmatic efforts and provided ample time, energy, and support for our group. These leaders sought feedback from our cohort on topics of interest for professional development sessions, all of which relate to the EFLA goals of growing as an early career faculty leader. Sessions involve an invited guest speaker who has a particular area of expertise or passion for helping others grow in the identified professional development area. These topics range from balancing personal and professional responsibilities, to teaching tips and curriculum development, to strategies for succeeding in the promotion process, and finally to navigating how one’s social identities show up in faculty work. Learning outcomes from EFLA participation include defining one’s faculty leadership, creating actionable professional development plans, exploring NASPA involvement, and expanding one’s network of faculty colleagues across the U.S.
Although all of the EFLA learning outcomes were invaluable to me, the last one regarding relationship building was particularly meaningful. In reflecting on my EFLA experience, I am still inspired by the intelligent, thoughtful, genuine, supportive, and all-around amazing women that our cohort consisted of last year. We were the second EFLA cohort, and although unplanned, our group ended up consisting of all women, and we represented a variety of diverse social identities as well as professional journeys, institutional types, and areas of expertise in our teaching, research, and service. This group of incredible women shared a bond that provided unconditional support, genuine relationships, and a platform to talk about real issues in an open manner. It was particularly empowering and affirming to be in community with a group of women all in a similar early faculty career stage, and who got to engage in “real talk” about our successes, challenges, ideas, questions, and goals. These impactful conversations included critically addressing issues of social identity, and we also had the often rare but important opportunity to speak freely about the intersections of the personal and professional. Although our official EFLA cohort year wrapped up at the conclusion of spring semester 2018, our group continues to be engaged with one another, including sharing invitations to collaborate on scholarship opportunities such as co-authoring studies and serving as edited book chapter authors, to co-presenting at national conventions. Most recently at the NASPA 2018 convention in Philadelphia, PA, our EFLA cohort presented “Successfully Starting Your Faculty Career in the Academy: Resources and Insights from NASPA’s Emerging Faculty Leader Academy Second Cohort,” and several other collaborative projects are underway. Throughout our time as an EFLA cohort, we have cheered each other on through personal and professional milestones while learning invaluable information for navigating our faculty careers. Through it all, I always left EFLA interactions full of ideas, feeling a renewed energy for our work, and with a sense of connectedness that I hope will continue over the years.
Looking ahead, I am hopeful that future EFLA cohorts will also have such a meaningful experience. I highly encourage others to apply for the EFLA, and to not hesitate to reach out to previous EFLA members with any questions. Meanwhile, welcome and congratulations to the 2018-2019 EFLA cohort! To conclude this reflection, I would like to share a summary of the advice our cohort listed for future EFLA members, which I also plan to hold close as I continue in my own faculty journey: Identify and stick to your priorities both personally and professionally (including not being afraid to say “no” and unapologetically making self-care a priority), seek opportunities for collaboration, develop meaningful relationships and serve as a mentor, be strategic with your time and energy for all areas of teaching, research, and service, serve as a leader including getting involved with professional associations and serving as a journal reviewer, and be patient with yourself and seek support when needed. Given these themes about intentional professional development and personal well-being, I am beginning the current academic year inspired by the wisdom and passion of my EFLA colleagues, while rooting for their continued successes in the coming months. Many thanks to EFLA Cohort 2, and here’s to the years ahead!
EFLA 2017-2018 Cohort
Leslie Jo (LJ) Shelton
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