Quality professional development plan on a low budget

To develop your employees, tap a university’s greatest resource: expertise

Like most universities—particularly in rural areas—western Maryland’s Frostburg State University has learned to do more with less. Shrinking state support left fewer resources for professional development. Traditional options such as national conferences, seminars and outside consultants quickly became too costly.

We understood that we risked compromising quality, but how could an institution on a shoestring budget deliver meaningful professional development? How could we bridge that divide?

Identifying campus allies

Fortunately, Jeffrey McClellan, an associate professor in Frostburg’s Department of Management, had the same concerns. Together, we identified one resource for professional development that comprehensive universities already have in abundance: knowledgeable, experienced faculty and staff.

In fall 2014, backed by these talented faculty and staff volunteers, we launched Frostburg’s Employee Development & Leadership Series (EDLS). Our goal was to identify potential campus leaders and use Frostburg’s existing expertise to prepare employees for greater responsibilities and challenges.

The budget for the leadership series has never exceeded $3,000 per year, but its value is much greater. Eight staff and two faculty members constituted our initial cohort. Successive cohorts have grown to 12 members, with more applicants each year.

Monthly sessions feature presentations by on-campus experts and panel discussions with specific campus units. Each session aligns with predetermined goals and outcomes:

  • Enhance knowledge, skills and competencies in leadership while developing the ability to manage change.
  • Improve supervisory skills, methods and practices.
  • Increase awareness of supervisory style and the ability to adapt to different styles of behavior.
  • Raise awareness of conflict styles and approaches to conflict resolution.
  • Build fundamental understanding of labor laws and relevant regulations.
  • Develop the ability to manage an increasingly diverse workforce and foster an inclusive workplace environment.

In year one, needing to develop the curriculum, we paid presenters small stipends. Presenters have found educating prospective campus leaders to be so meaningful that most now volunteer.

Faculty experts presented topics such as workplace organization, systems thinking, team leadership and leading change. The director of our Center for Student Diversity, Equity and Inclusion presented on interpersonal and multicultural leadership. Our vice president for Administration & Finance explained our institutional budgeting process.

Panel discussions featured a range of campus divisions, such as Academic and Student Affairs, Athletics, and Enrollment Management.

For our third year, we added a mentoring component, pairing participants with campus leaders who were trained for the mentor role. Those mentor-protÁ©gÁ© relationships have helped participants explore ways to apply their new knowledge in their current roles at Frostburg. Anecdotes and formal survey responses indicate that EDLS has been a success. Our larger lesson is broadly applicable.

Persistence matters

Too often, we look outside our institutions when the people necessary for success already exist within, and are eager to be part of something meaningful. By empowering and supporting those individuals with passion and vision, we saw them persist to their goals.

Bringing EDLS to fruition was challenging, but every bit of frustration was worth it. The program has become a vital component of professional development at Frostburg, giving our best and brightest the knowledge and leadership tools they need to flourish. Budget shortfalls are poor excuses for neglecting our most valuable resources—our people.  

Kathy Snyder is vice president for human resources at Frostburg State University.

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