ACE Fellow

Nov 25, 2009

Dr. Jackie El-Sayed, professor of Mechanical Engineering, was a Fellow in the prestigious American Council on Education program. Now back at Kettering University, she shares her reflections on the memorable experiences.

Dr. Jackie El-Sayed, a professor of Mechanical Engineering, served in the prestigious American Council on Education Fellows Program and spent an incredible year matched with world-class mentors from higher education. Now back at Kettering University in Flint, she is sharing her reflections on this memorable opportunity. Dr. El-Sayed is a 1986 graduate of Kettering.

"I'd like to begin by offering a sincere 'thank you' to Kettering's president and provost for nominating me.  I had never heard of the ACE Fellows program so this experience would not have been possible without their support in many ways," she said.

What is the American Council on Education Fellows Program?
The ACE Fellows program is an honor that recognizes individuals with potential for high level leadership in higher education administration. It is also called ‘The Proven Pathway to Leadership” and the overarching goal is the professionalization of U.S. higher education. To be selected the individual is nominated by the president and/or provost of their institution. There is a lengthy application that includes case scenarios, demonstrated leadership record, and four confidential letters of recommendation. From the applications, finalists are selected to be interviewed by five university presidents and the ACE Fellows director in Washington D.C.

The fellowship program is most similar to an executive MBA program focused on the business of higher education. It includes coursework and projects on topics such as fund raising, marketing, financial management. It also includes campus visits, an internship, case studies, as well as a fellowship focus project given by the home institution. Each fellow is matched with a personal ACE mentor through a placement process who is a president or high ranking higher education executive. I was matched with my mentor, President Maria Klawe of Harvey Mudd College, the former Dean of Engineering at Princeton. Fellows also have five president-emeriti coaches, one of whom is designated as our personal 360 coach, mine was President-emeritus Jacquelyn Belcher. There is also a public speaking coach, ACE peer mentors, and a cohort of fellows that is formed with diversity in mind, including organizational type, disciplines, etc.

(For my application, in addition to letters about my work at Kettering, my reference letters included Captain Robert Powers, the Commanding Officer of the Michigan State Police Traffic Safety Division. Two of my interviewers in Washington D.C. were President Jon Whitmore, who is a former ACE Fellow, previously president of Texas Tech, now president of San Jose State University and President-Emeritus Stephen Trachtenberg, of George Washington University. For my internship interviews, Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land agreed to act as my phone reference, but it turned out to be unnecessary.)

When and where did you attend?
As a 2008-2009 ACE Fellow, the first event I attended was the Council of Fellows Weekend in Washington D.C. in June of 2008, however, the placement process began in March after the press release went out. The Council of Fellows Weekend is an annual event where all former fellows are invited back for a weekend conference. The new class of fellows is introduced and the outgoing class of fellows share their reflections. My fellowship was for the 2008-2009 academic year.

There are mandatory parts of the fellowship program, but it is also formally customized to the individual through a learning contract. In addition to the three mandatory seminars, I spent the first half of the fellowship year completing campus visits, both individually and with the other fellows, to over 20 campuses across the country, hosted by administrators at those campuses. I also worked on my fellowship projects, studied for my learning goals, and shadowed three higher education executives at different institutions to learn about their roles, as well as prepare myself for my internship. In the second half of the year, I shadowed my mentor, President Klawe, and completed several projects as a part of the cabinet at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. During this time, I only saw my family one time per month. Being away from my husband and children for so long was the most brutal part of the fellowship.

What was the best part?
The best part for me was my relationship with my mentor! It may be hard for some to understand, but because I am a woman in engineering, I have never had a woman professor in my discipline in any of my three degrees and only a few woman profs in humanities courses in undergraduate school (GMI/Kettering). Because she is also from engineering, Maria and I have similar professional and family experiences, but over and above this, our personalities and outlooks on life are also similar, so the chemistry of our relationship was the most outstanding experience for me. I was so fortunate that she agreed to be my mentor! She was most generous in making time for me and opening up her entire campus to me.

Another wonderful part was the validation that I experienced for my leadership skills, as well as the understanding that this is a transferable skill set that I can use in my future career. For example, I was selected the president of my leadership team, the HMC cabinet told me how much they appreciated my input and how clearly I see things, and I also was selected one of only three fellows to be invited back to present to the incoming class of fellows at their orientation. My ACE Learning Contract was posted to Blackboard for use by the incoming class as a model example.

In addition, the experience helped to refine my leadership and administrative skills by assisting me in understanding what principles specific to my understanding of Kettering’s organizational dynamics are transferable to higher education, in general. We have been told that this level of maturity usually takes years of experience to gain.

How has it changed your approach now that you are back at Kettering?
I didn’t realize how much I had been changed by my one year away, until I was back on campus. I definitely had to transition back and become re-accustomed to my environment.  My understanding of what is involved with running a university from a president’s viewpoint, as well as how other institutions conduct business, has transformed my understanding of my experience here. Because I happen to be a systems thinker, I particularly have a gained a greater understanding of standard practices and processes used at other organizations, and how these could benefit Kettering.

Are there any other thoughts you’d like to share?

My internship:
At HMC, I shadowed my mentor, which means that I went everywhere with her. Our protocol was that I would attend all campus meetings with her and if there was something that I shouldn’t attend then she would tell me. This happened only a couple of times, so I attended all her meetings including the board meetings, the cabinet meetings, her one-on-one meetings with her staff, fund raising events, etc. I was actually the only individual that escorted her to her naturalization ceremony when she became a United States citizen. (She is from Canada originally.)

My ACE Learning contract and report:
Specifically, my personal ACE Learning Contract involved understanding institutional operations, budgeting and financial management, fund raising and capital campaigns, accreditation, experiential learning, faculty performance, and functioning of governing boards. This formal contract is signed by both the home and host presidents with the original kept on file at ACE. I completed many projects and activities on each of these topics at HMC as well as case studies, visits, and seminar work. Of course, I also picked up much more knowledge throughout my experience and found other topics that I also needed to understand. My progress toward my learning goals was collected in monthly reports that I sent to my nominators, and I also completed a hundred-page final report which also was signed by Presidents Klawe and Liberty, again the original is kept on file at ACE. ACE is very keen on accountability and the success of their graduates. Due to the increased knowledge I gained through the program, I can now make positive contributions here.

Giving back: new assignment:
Interestingly enough, I have also gained renewed insight into how co-op education continues to assist in learning throughout one’s life. Since I was once a co-op student, I already understood how to gain the most from my internship experience, and that it was up to me to take initiative and make things happen for me to reach my goals. I also have a renewed appreciation for the importance of reflection and reflective learning. How it feels to be a new co-op student is now fresh in my mind due to my internship. Furthermore, I understand that it was cooperative education that helped me to become a ‘process person’ (as one individual called me), which is a systems thinker. I understand how co-op contributed to my instincts with respect to organization dynamics, accountability, and leadership.

Returning fellows are to immediately begin building upon the professional development provided by ACE and their host campus, through increased responsibility back at their home campus. The provost and president have given me the assignment to complete a benchmark and provide recommendations to improve our cooperative education program. In addition to this, the provost has provided me with several other assignments in Academic Affairs. My ACE Fellowship Focus project forms the basis for my new assignment on the co-op program; however, I have an in-depth understanding of our current program since I am both a former GMI student and a professor at this school who has advised a substantial number of theses.  While at HMC, I acted as an advisor for a HMC “Clinic” team, which is considered a benchmark program in undergraduate engineering. It is this program that was the model for the Olin School of Engineering SCOPE program. The HMC Clinic program is similar to our senior thesis program, except it is an industrial project completed by a team of Mudd students on campus with a faculty advisor and industrial liaisons, as opposed to the thesis which is completed at the industrial sponsor site with an employer advisor and it is the faculty adviser who visits. This program formed the basis for my recommendations for Kettering in my Fellowship Focus project, and is what I will be building upon in my new assignment. I am very excited about the possibility of making a positive contribution to a program in which I so deeply believe and also feel grateful that the Enrollment Services staff is also enthusiastic in supporting and working with me.

My mentor:
Please look up the stories on my remarkable mentor, President Maria Klawe. She became the 10th member of the Microsoft board of directors while I was there and I witnessed the vetting process which included a visit from Steve Balmer. She is very well connected to many presidents including MIT, CalTech and Stanford.  Story about her Microsoft selection:  

News coverage on ACE experience:>
More on the ACE Fellowship program: