Putting Academic Allied Leadership Within Reach

Dr. Richard ValachovicIn this month’s letter, Dr. Rick Valachovic describes an ADEA initiative that supports adjunct allied faculty and may serve as a model for future online educational offerings.

What if future academic allied leaders were already in our midst, just waiting for an easily accessible opportunity to develop their skills and move to the next level? That was the premise behind a pilot leadership program developed by ADEA last year in collaboration with the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA).

ADEA/ADHA Leadership Essentials for Adjunct Faculty (ADEA/ADHA LEAF)—fine-tuned in 2017 and now called ADEA LEAF—is an interactive, self-paced online course specifically for part-time allied dental faculty members. Using Canvas, a learning management system made available by Eastern Washington University (EWU), the course guides participants as they assess their strengths, secure mentors, set goals and develop conflict management skills and a personal leadership philosophy.

Rebecca Stolberg, RDH, M.S.D.H., Professor in the College of Health Science and Public Health at EWU, is the course director and served on the ADEA/ADHA Work Group that created the program. Why the focus on adjuncts?

“When you look across allied dental programs, we all have way more part-time or adjunct faculty than full-time faculty,” Rebecca points out. “Program directors support their full-time faculty with development dollars—if they can—but adjunct faculty don’t get much in terms of professional development.”

Leadership development for adjuncts is not just about filling that opportunity gap. It’s also about developing a cadre of educators and program directors who can fill anticipated vacancies as full-time faculty members retire. Rebecca has been in dental hygiene for almost 30 years, and she is concerned. “We hire our alumni the day they graduate because we don’t have educators out there to hire,” she says with dismay, noting that many flounder without the leadership development skills that ADEA LEAF is trying to impart.

A dearth of seasoned professionals who can take on teaching and leadership roles also affects dental professional associations, state boards and other entities that rely on experienced, capable individuals to shape policy and keep our professions strong.

In its first year, ADEA LEAF impacted several of these areas. Of the 17 dental hygienists in the initial cohort, three are now full-time educators, four have entered graduate programs, two have been appointed to advisory positions by their institutions, and four have increased their teaching loads. These excellent outcomes are a testament to the can-do spirit of the program.

For Annette Stelter, RDH, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Dental Hygiene at West Coast University, participating in ADEA/ADHA LEAF in 2016 was “absolutely profound.”

“Here I thought I was going into retirement, and now at 50, I’m going back to school to get my master’s degree to have another career,” she says. She attended the program on the recommendation of her dean, who knew of Annette’s interest in ultimately obtaining a full-time faculty position.

To achieve this goal, she was planning to pursue a master’s degree in dental hygiene, but she says that ADEA LEAF gave her a taste of what organizational leadership was all about and persuaded her to change direction. “Until I took the course, I wasn’t even considering this as an option,” Annette told me. Now she is pursuing a master’s degree in organizational leadership and hopes eventually to become the clinic manager at her school.

Annette also praises the program’s structure and the way it balances independent and interactive learning. Through the course, she made friends across the country, and a year later she is still in touch with them.

ADEA/ADHA LEAF alumna Anne Miller, M.S., an adjunct faculty member at UC Blue Ash College, a regional college within the University of Cincinnati, also appreciated the balance between independent and interactive learning. “We didn’t have a lot of live conversation, but we got to know each other through the discussion boards,” she says. “As the course progressed, people felt safer and safer to share more about their desires and their dreams.”

Anne’s dream is to become a full-time faculty member who can influence new dental hygienists to view themselves as professionals.

“Dental hygiene programs could focus more on leadership skills and talk about what you can bring to your position no matter what title you hold,” she says. For Anne, who also belongs to her state dental hygiene association and serves as president of her local component, the program offered an affirmation of her career plans. She envisions eventually moving into a clinic coordinator position, or perhaps one day, becoming a program director.

This is exactly what the work group was hoping for when it conceived of ADEA/ADHA LEAF—a program that would instill in participants a belief that “I can go on and do this,” as Rebecca put it. Although ADEA has many established leadership programs for full-time faculty, a number of these folks have sent inquiries to Rebecca about LEAF. “People are eager for this type of development,” she told me, “and the more economical, the easier the access, the better.”

Annette agrees, and adds that she would like leadership essentials to be “part of the curriculum in all the dental hygiene programs. It’s important to have these skills even when you’re working in collaboration with patients.”

ADEA is in the early stages of developing an updated portfolio of e-learning opportunities that we hope to make available to all of our members, perhaps as early as 2018. In the meantime, ADEA LEAF puts leadership skills within reach of current adjunct faculty and starts them down a path toward deeper leadership development.

The second iteration of the course starts this month with a few refinements from its original format. The 25-credit course will run for eight weeks with adjunct dental assisting and dental lab technician faculty invited to attend alongside their dental hygiene colleagues. At $14 per continuing education (CE) credit hour, the program is a phenomenal bargain, and—not surprisingly—it quickly sold out.

West Coast University Dean of Dental Hygiene Michelle Hurlbutt, RDH, M.S.D.H., D.H.Sc., plans to send members of her adjunct faculty to the ADEA LEAF program each year. If Annette’s enthusiasm for continued professional development is any gauge, Michelle is making a wise investment in the health of her program and her profession.

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