Five months have passed since their initial meeting as a cohort, but the bond between the members of the ACE Fellows Program Class of 2015-16 has never been stronger.
Last month, 41 Fellows gathered in Miami for a mid-year retreat designed to foster reflection on the fellowship experience, assess progress on individual goals and create a post-Fellowship plan. This mid-point “pause” from their campus-based experience is a critical component of the Fellows’ overall experience as they continue to integrate new knowledge and ways of practice.
During the retreat, Fellows were joined by the Program’s Presidential Leadership Group Facilitators, also known as the “Sages,” distinguished college and university presidents who advise Fellows individually, as well as coordinate and convene small discussion groups throughout the Fellowship year. ACE President Molly Corbett Broad also attended a portion of the retreat to share an overview of national higher education issues and participate in some of the discussion.
Fellows have observed and experienced many changes throughout the Fellowship year thus far, and the retreat came at a critical junction for them personally and professionally. Much of the conversation at the retreat involved timely issues that are happening at many of the Fellows’ home and host institutions, such as student activism surrounding race and diversity across the nation. The trust and confidence developed over time within the cohort and with the Sages allowed for honest and candid conversations about a host of challenging topics, which many Fellows said underscored the value of the in-person retreat.
Fellows were also afforded the opportunity to hear from 1990-91 Fellows Program alum and current ACE board member Marie Foster Gnage, president of Florida State College at Jacksonville’s Downtown Campus. President Gnage shared a brief overview of the history of higher education in Florida, highlighting the main issues faced by the state’s institutions, and how the Fellows Program positioned her to become a college president.
The Fellows continued work on a live case study started in August 2015 assisting Marygrove College’s (MI) contribution to urban renewal and adaptation to changing circumstances in its hometown of Detroit. With the participation of outgoing Marygrove Interim President James Birge and incoming President Elizabeth Burns (a 2004-05 ACE Fellow), the Fellows called upon their experience and skills to provide Marygrove with suggestions and ideas to move forward. Marygrove’s senior leadership team used many of these ideas as a point of departure and benchmarking comparisons for their emerging strategic plan. The Marygrove case study exercise was an intense learning and collaborative experience for all who took part in it, and is a unique feature of the Program.
Preparing for the next generation of ACE Fellows also is of critical importance to each Class. While in Miami the Fellows engaged in a “friendraising” drive as a practical application of one retreat session, Friendraising and Fundraising in Higher Education, led by University of Wisconsin-River Falls chancellor Dean Van Galen (a 1994-95 ACE Fellow). The Fellows practiced “making the ask” to solicit funds through phone calls to Fellows from earlier cohorts, and raised over $11,000 in support for future Fellows.
The 2015-16 Class will conclude its Fellowship year with a closing retreat in June. In the meantime, many will gather at ACE2016, ACE’s 98th Annual Meeting, next month in San Francisco.