Rob Roznowski is the head of acting and directing in the Department of Theatre. As an AAN Leadership Fellow last year, he created a central resource for faculty to help their students access mental health resources.
“Mental health is not my area of expertise but teaching is what unites all of us working at MSU. Our mission at MSU is to create the next generation of fearless trailblazers. And this generation needs our education to reach them in new ways based on their struggles with mental health. The importance of this project laid in our common goal of education,” Roznowski wrote in his report. Read the final report on his time as an AAN Leadership Fellow.
A new initiative in the 2017-18 academic year, the Leadership Fellows program creates year-long partnerships between mentors (current administrators) and fellows (faculty at least five-years post-tenure). This program involves both a shadowing experience and work on a project developed jointly between the mentor and fellow. A Q+A with Rob Roznowski follows.
Can you tell me about your time as an AAN Leadership Fellow?
My year as an AAN Fellow was great. The chance to shadow and meet regularly with Dean Cynthia Jackson-Elmoore felt like a gift. Each meeting was a new way to look at possible ways to examine issues from the upper administration point of view. It was a chance to deeply reflect on where my strengths and weaknesses lie and a real opportunity to examine how decisions and discussions are disseminated. She and everyone at the Honors College were thoroughly helpful. I think looking at a different college’s structure and way of working was really eye-opening.
What was the project you created?
Upon personal reflection, I realized that my initial impetus for the project (not knowing where to turn following my dealings with a student in distress) which made me feel so isolated was understood universally across the university. Each person I met with realized the importance of such work and its necessity. Most were surprised that MSU did not have resources organized for easy access but all were eager to assist.
Other personal reflections included that this project revealed my tenacity and work ethic for better or worse. In my application for the AAN Fellows program, I mentioned that one of my strengths and weaknesses was my lack of patience. This project (and Dr. Jackson-Elmoore’s careful guidance) taught me that patience is necessary while also not losing the focus on the end result.
I also learned quite a bit about structure and collaboration on various levels. Collaboration on a university-wide project requires personal diligence and cultivated cooperation with others. Most meetings were merely a point of referral to another meeting but the lessons learned in each interview created a blueprint for future projects. The end game was finding a person who could make decisions and in doing so, I returned to the first few offices I began with. That circuitous route I now realize was necessary to gain a depth of knowledge and to create consensus. In each interaction, leadership and management styles were revealed to me. And those numerous meetings allowed me to see the evolution in my own leadership style. Examining those interactions has greatly affected my leadership both currently and in the future. I find myself more patient, thorough and quiet. (That last one is a big step.)
Mental health is not my area of expertise but teaching is what unites all of us working at MSU. Our mission at MSU is to create the next generation of fearless trailblazers. And this generation needs our education to reach them in new ways based on their struggles with mental health. The importance of this project lay in our common goal of education.
What compelled you to create that resource in particular?
As I mentioned in the excerpt of the report above, I had an interaction with a student in distress. It really shook me. And I didn’t know where to turn. That lack of obvious direction on the MSU website compelled me to connect the dots.
How did the AAN (and your mentors) assist you in creating the project?
I had two mentors for my project. The first was the invaluable Dr. Cynthia Jackson-Elmoore who was my mentor for the year and then my Dean Dr. Chistropher Long from CAL. They guided me on my project. I regularly updated them on my meetings with various individuals and offices and they offered guidance. What really impacted me was the doors that a title can open. I met with many people who I might not otherwise have access to.
How do you hope this will impact MSU on a broader scale?
My interest in the work I was doing was already being done by so many others with the creation of the Green Folder, the JED program, CAPS, and other places. I had assistance from so many. We piloted the EAP training program last semester and the response was great. in that training created by Jonathan Novello (really I just met with EAP and offered the idea and they ran with it and Jonathan created something really great!) we discovered so much. So many from all over MSU wanted to get in a room and share their frustrations at not being able to help the students we deal with daily.
Why did you apply for the AAN Leadership Fellows program?
I was really considering if a move to administration was right for me. I love teaching so much that I wondered if I moved further away from it– if that was a good idea for me. I discovered it might not be the right fit but I do love the idea of large project-based leadership. So, that program really helped me find some clarity.
How did participating in the program advance your leadership skills?
I think just observing Dr. Jackson-Elmoore was transformative. My need for immediate problem-solving was in direct counterpoint to her quiet and purposeful leadership. Even now, I see me slipping back into my ways of wanting to get things done immediately, I try to step back and imagine how she might handle the situation.
What was your biggest takeaway from participating in the program?
That leadership takes many forms. There is overt leadership and then there are ways to lead from within.