When Leo Lambert began his tenure last January as president of Elon College in North Carolina, he wanted to get out from behind his new deskand out from under the mystery of his new title. During his first week, Lambert did just that, helping students build a house for Habitat for Humanity. It wasn't the last time students would rub elbows with their new president. "During my first six months here, I made a point to get out on campus and really see how things operate," Lambert says. "I talked to everyone, from students to the grounds staff."
After completing a doctoral degree in education at Syracuse University, Lambert began to hone the personal qualities and the skills that have become trademarks of his leadership style. He stayed on campus and served as associate dean of the Graduate School and later instituted the Teaching Assistant and Future Professoriate programs. The initiatives caused a ripple effect in the academic world, as Lambert's model placed greater emphasis on teaching and less on research and publication. Today the programs are praised nationwide and serve as models for other institutions.
Lambert eventually left SU for the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where he ultimately served as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. While there, he established an undergraduate research program and encouraged ongoing faculty development. This commitment to faculty training, he says, draws from his earliest interests in education. "I was interested in teaching from a very young age," he says. "Although my career path as an administrator has not been a faculty route, I always have tried to remain connected with the classroom."
In addition to developing his educational and professional skills at SU, Lambert says working with administrators proved just as influential. "Frank Wilbur (associate vice president for undergraduate studies) was certainly a mentor," Lambert recalls. "He cares so much for the people who work with himand he sees them as whole people, not just employees. I always respected that quality in him." Another role model was Ron Cavanagh, vice president for undergraduate studies. "I admire his passion," Lambert says. "Ron really lit that fire in me."
Lambert also names Robert Jensen, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, as a key influence. "He is a classy guy who is always cool under pressure," Lambert says. "He has a great knack for diplomacy."
By drawing from such influences and experiences, Lambert is ready for a long-term relationship with Elon, believing the college embodies many of the qualities he finds appealing in an academic institution. "There is a real focus among the academic community here," Lambert says. "The faculty is still small enough to meet as an entire body once a month."
Settling into his role, Lambert already has tackled several challenging issues: a large capital campaign is in progress; a new football stadium is scheduled to be built next year; and some of Elon's professional programs need to be evaluated. To maintain his focus, Lambert plans to make sure the college's academic mission fuels all capital efforts. "The secrets of being a good administrator are not very complex," he says. "The most important thing is being a good listener, and trying to understand the perspective that others have of the academic environment. A president's relationships with faculty and students are both important."
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