To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
My first “Sculpting in Clay” blog was posted November 2010, a few short months after arriving in Augusta, and my last blog as president will be published sometime between now and June 30. I sincerely appreciate your giving me the opportunity over these past five years to share my thoughts with you in this forum, and thank the many who have turned this blog into a dialogue by sharing your thoughts, in turn, with me.
Many of my posts have been explorations of Leadership — a subject I find essential to understand as we face the challenges of an ever more complex world. And one I spent a lot of time reflecting on while coming to the decision to step down as president of this great institution.
When I was offered the position of president back in early 2010, I understood I would be leading the institution through a period of change and transformation. Initially, the changes only involved the health system and health sciences university: I was charged with creating an integrated health system aligned with the university and with expanding the state’s public academic health center mission and footprint to better serve Georgia’s growing need for medical professionals and the health care they would deliver throughout the region and state.
But the transformational challenges continued to grow … Within a year and a half of my arrival — with the first charge still a work in progress — I was selected to lead the consolidation of two universities in Augusta.
There are times in the life of every institution, community, region, and nation when we must act and fully embrace transformative change, hard as it is. With rapidly changing environments in both higher education and health care, we were, without a doubt, in one of those historic moments of change. I was privileged to lead such change … and tremendously fortunate to build a stellar leadership team, and to have faculty, staff and administrators who rolled up their sleeves and together tackled a monumental task on a near-impossible schedule.
And, together, we did it. What we have accomplished has been no less than extraordinary:
- Successfully consolidating ASU and GHSU to create GRU, one of Georgia’s four public comprehensive universities.
- Creating a closely aligned, integrated and successful health system, to be part of Georgia’s only public academic health center.
- Improving student success, raising the 6-year undergraduate graduation rates and dramatically increasing the number of new freshman that successfully complete 15 credit hours or more per semester.
- Building our research profile by earning funding of over $106 million in FY14, the highest research funding in the history of the institutions, during the worst funding environment in decades and moving our Cancer Center towards NCI designation.
- Revitalizing philanthropy, nearly tripling yearly contributions, and achieving the largest donation to a capital project in the university’s history and, separately, the largest philanthropic gift ever given to a public institution in Georgia.
- Implementing an aggressive approach to improving campus respect and tolerance around diversity and inclusion, efforts that have garnered significant national attention.
- Obtaining funding and philanthropic support for the construction of over $200 million in new building space.
- Partnering with industry to find ways to improve the quality and lower the costs of care offered by our health system, resulting in our 15-year $300 million health care alliance with Philips and our 14-year $400 million agreement with Cerner, which are national models for innovation.
- And just this December we were awarded a Certificate of Need for a new Hospital in Columbia County, the largest county in Georgia without an acute care hospital.
- And much more ….
I am tremendously proud of today’s Georgia Regents University, and immensely grateful to the hundreds, if not thousands of you who contributed so much to get us where we are today. And I have no doubt we are headed for even greater things tomorrow.
But in recent months as I reflected on my own role, I realized I needed to consider not only what is best for my family and for me, but what is best for the university and health system. And I concluded that, just as there is a time to take the helm and embrace dramatic transformation, there is a time to make room for new leadership — to give someone else the opportunity to take our successes to the next level. And that time has come.
The distinguished history and solid foundation of GRU’s legacy institutions were built by generations of previous leaders, upon whose shoulders I stood when it came my turn. And I have enormous confidence that our leadership team and the strength of the foundation we have all built together will provide the next president ample shoulders from which he or she will launch the next exciting phase in our institution’s history.
Which of the following clusters of college experiences best predict graduates’ life-long satisfaction in work and overall feelings of well-being?
- Having a strong friend network, being actively engaged in student life, and being close enough to family to visit regularly;
- Having a professor who excites them about learning, feeling that professors care about them as a person, and having a mentor who encourages them to pursue their goals and dreams;
- Active involvement in extracurricular activities, having an internship where they can apply their classroom learning, and working on long-term projects over the course of a semester or longer;
- Attending an Ivy League college; majoring in engineering, science, or business; and developing multiple connections with professionals in the career they want to pursue.
According to a recent Gallop survey of college graduates, the answer is (2). In fact, graduates who said they had all three — a professor who excited them about learning, the feeling that professors cared about them as a person, and a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams — were more than twice as likely to report they were engaged in their work and were thriving in their overall well-being as those who did not.
Unfortunately, while 63 percent of graduates reported having a professor that fostered excitement about learning, significantly fewer (27 percent) felt professors cared about them personally, and only one in five reported having a mentor. A faculty mentor, of course, would likely provide a student all three benefits in one person.
There is much research that supports the value of individual mentoring in school and at work. A 2011 brief under the auspices of the Institute for Higher Education Policy reviewed available research and concluded, “Mentoring is a valuable strategy to provide students with the emotional and instrumental support students need to achieve the goal of a college degree.”
What exactly is a “mentor”? There are many definitions, but the same study found common characteristics include a learning partnership between a more experienced and a less experienced individual; a process involving emotional and instrumental (e.g., providing information and coaching) functions; and a relationship whose impact increases over time.
All three elements were present in an inspiring real-life mentoring example described in the Summer 2014 issue of our alumni magazine, GRavity. Dr. Rico Short, one of our inaugural Jag 20 honorees, recounted how a mentoring relationship with an MCG alumnus, Dr. Isaac Hadley, dramatically altered the trajectory of his life. The relationship began when Short was in high school — the son of a single parent textile mill worker with few role models and low expectations for improving his lot in life —and continued through college, dental school, career start up, and to the current day. I encourage you to read the story, if you haven’t already.
It is clear that mentoring benefits the individual mentee. However, the benefits of mentoring are bidirectional. Imagine how gratified Dr. Hadley feels about his role in Dr. Short’s life. One of the most gratifying parts of my own 35 years in academics has been the happy opportunity to mentor dozens of young individuals not only in their development as scientists, but also in their professional and personal lives. It is a wonderfully rewarding experience and one that I miss most dreadfully.
Today we face a paucity of trained and dedicated mentors who fully understand the mentor role. Mentoring isn’t simply having students or trainees follow you around, watching your every move. While observation is fundamental to human learning, mentoring goes far beyond that. Mentors work to foster the development of an independent and self-sufficient career rather than develop acolytes, “mini-mes,” or clones. Effective mentors consider not only the professional career of their mentees, but also their human/personal needs. Mentors must be available for formal and regularly scheduled meetings with their mentees as well as informal discussions as the need arises. Mentors must hold mentees accountable and provide regular, clear, and honest feedback.
Most of all, mentors must have experience, desire, and … TIME! And in this era of declining resources and increasing faculty clinical, research, teaching, and administrative burdens, time is often the greatest challenge. But it is a challenge that we in higher education must address deliberately and proactively, as the future of the next generation — not to mention our national scientific and educational competitiveness — may well rest on being able to identify, engage, and train sufficient numbers of effective mentors to make the critical difference.
As an educational institution, we have an important role to play in developing a workforce that contributes to the economic strength and growth of our community, region, and state. Mentoring can be an effective tool to enhance our workforce development efforts, providing one-on-one support to the individuals who will become the economic, cultural, and social drivers of our future.
As we begin a new semester and a new year, I encourage all faculty, staff, and students to seek out mentoring opportunities — both professionally and academically, as both potential mentors and mentees —within our organization and in our community. Everyone has something to offer those who are coming behind you. Let us all reach back so that —together — we will all move forward.