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The Innovating Together Podcast

Welcome to innovating together, a podcast produced by the University Innovation Alliance. This is a podcast for busy people in higher education who are looking for the “aha moments” that can propel their work forward. Innovating Together curates the best insights, research, and experts.

Bridget Burns, Executive Director of the University Innovation Alliance, and Jeff Selingo, author, columnist, and special advisor at Arizona State University, are inviting insight and experiences from presidents and chancellors of universities navigating the challenge in real-time. The fourth guest is Michael Drake, President of The Ohio State University and former Chancellor of the University of California, Irvine. He is a popular and well-loved personality who continues to inspire colleagues, students, and followers.

As A Leader, Does He Have A Framework That He Follows?

According to Michael, he remembers a quote told by a good friend and colleague who said: "the happiest and most fulfilled people do something greater and more profound than their own self-interest." He used this quote to inspire the graduates as well and used it as a guide when deciding. As the President, Drake ensures that he and his team can support the students, staff, etc. amid the pandemic.

Has He Made Changes In The School That He Thinks Will Last Long Term?

Among the profound changes they’ve made, Michael notes that Telemedicine would last long term because he sees it as a platform to enhance the relationship and being in touch with people even after the pandemic. It’s a convenient way to establish connections and conversations without the need to be present in person.

What Advice Can He Give To Those Who Are Struggling To Focus In Trying Times?

Drake shares his experience as an Ophthalmologist in the operating room wherein you can’t afford to lose focus or feel unhappy. Being in the medical field means that there’s no room for uncertainty or indecisiveness. Drake also adds that you have to put your mind into it and remind yourself that this task needs to be done.

Bridget Burns, Executive Director of the University Innovation Alliance, and Jeff Selingo, author, columnist, and special advisor at Arizona State University, are inviting insight and experiences from presidents and chancellors of universities navigating the challenge in real-time. The third guest is Wendy Wintersteen, the first female president of Iowa State University and the former endowed dean of Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“When You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Innovating”

When it comes to handling Iowa State, Wendy often tells her team a modified version of Winston Churchill’s famous quote. This mindset has helped her team push through and continue to aim for success. She mentions that innovation is the newest face of Iowa State during these trying times.

How Does She Balance Leading While Also Making People Feel Supported?

Wintersteen talks about how past presidents have inspired her to work this way. She says that it’s vital to acknowledge and thank the students for their achievements, especially during these times. Overall, the intent to work together and find the familiar path through the problem makes the community thrive.

What Experiences Help Guide Her Decisions To Lead During A Pandemic?

Wendy has been working in the field for 40 years, so she has experienced a lot. She notes that she was present through most of the crises that Iowa State went through and taught her the true meaning of being part of a community.

How Does She Decide On What Message To Send The People

Wendy says that appropriate communication happens when you share. Becoming upfront and honest about the facts you have is key to gaining trust and letting the community know that you are with them.

How Does She Adjust Expectations Of The People?

Wintersteen states that early on, she already told the people that results and expectations would be different. However, her team will still exert the same effort and productivity to make things work.

Bridget Burns, Executive Director of the University Innovation Alliance, and Jeff Selingo, author, columnist, and special advisor at Arizona State University, are inviting insight and experiences from presidents and chancellors of universities navigating the challenge in real-time. The second guest is Michael Sorrell, who is the president of Paul Quinn College. Sorrell is one of the 10 most innovative college presidents in the country and one of the world's top 50 leaders.

How is He Holding Up, and What is Keeping Him Positive?

Sorrell stays positive because of the gratitude for the amount of family time he gets to have; the sight of his family sharing his office and going in-and-out of it makes him happy. Part of his career involves being a crisis manager, so he feels like he is at an advantage and could plan to send students home on time. 

What Kind of Leadership Principle is Serving Him?

His leadership principle is on the base of love, and he is more concerned about the wellbeing of his staff and students. He has created a safe space in staff meetings to encourage staff members to open up to boost their productivity.

How Does He Separate and Manage the Day's Work, Today's Chaos, and Plans?

Sorrell said the best course of action is to be honest about being overwhelmed because nobody has ever lived through a pandemic. Accepting his vulnerability and acting to minimize regrets, being cautious, and analyzing the situation carefully.

How Does He Keep His Eyes On the Ball?

They plan to be different at Paul Quinn by analyzing places with room for improvements and making due changes. He has put plans in place like having a smaller freshman year and an unmentionable partnership. With the break, Sorrell brings the issues that need to be addressed to the table and works on change. He is also all about putting the needs of his staff and students above traditions.

How is He Still Optimistic About the Future of His School?

Sorrell shares his story about how his school was at a rough patch when he took over, and they came out and kept going irrespective of the sad odds. He likened the experience of Paul Quinn at that point to the current pandemic and said the difficulties would provide room for growth. Sorrell quotes lessons from his faith, saying, "without the test, you will never get a testimony" and says this is the time to be resilient as leaders to raise resilient students. He advises: if you pray, pray, then get up and believe in the inevitability of your success.

How is He Managing with His Board?

He believes in open, honest communication with the board members because you can never communicate too much, and we are all in this together.

Is there any book he has read in the past that is helpful now?

He said there is a need for a message of hope, and focusing on other people helps him. He is reading Just Mercy by Stevenson, On Duties, and Building an International University. Family time, exercising, and a positive mindset have kept him going so far.

How does he find balance While Dreaming Big?

He starts by addressing underperformance, financial protection to avoid salary reductions, and looking at everything with clear eyes. Because in a smaller school like Paul Quinn, it's personal.

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