Newswise — EVANSTON, Ill. — Highlighting partnerships, innovations and strategies that can be applied across our campuses, more than 240 faculty and staff gathered last week at Northwestern University’s 11th annual Best Practices Forum to share ideas – and learn from colleagues.

The forum, presented by the Office of Change Management, provided a chance to discuss successes, find creative solutions and affect change across the University.

Provost Jonathan Holloway, the forum sponsor, delivered the day’s opening remarks. He stressed the need to put students at the center of all endeavors, creating a rigorous classroom environment that embraces an increasingly diverse student body.

“We must have both rigor and empathy,” Holloway said. “People come here from different places and take different paths. We have to understand on a deep level the worlds that make these communities. Sometimes it’s counterintuitive. That’s what universities do. That is good ethical work.”

The good work was on display throughout the day, through a dozen sessions that focused on enhancing diversity and inclusion, collaboration and innovation, service delivery and data-driven improvements.

At her lunchtime keynote, Celeste Watkins-Hayes, associate vice president for research, spoke about “The Safety Net that AIDS Activism Built: Lessons for Tackling Big Problems through Transformative Leadership.”

 Watkins-Hayes, a professor of sociology and African American studies as well as a faculty fellow at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research, talked about how activists were able to build a safety net for female AIDS patients by changing the narrative about AIDS at the time, which was predominantly viewed as a disease affecting gay males.

“Sometimes, changing the narrative is necessary to address the problem,” she said.

The same holds true in a University setting, Watkins-Hayes said. To tackle big issues, decision makers must engage diverse populations, listen to other ideas and embrace constructive conflict, she said.

“We often are so afraid of conflict. When people of diverse backgrounds come together, they don’t always agree,” she said. But that is when true progress often occurs.

“There has to be a willingness to talk about how we’re going to talk about things differently.”

Highlights from other sessions included:

  • Lisa Corrin, Ellen Phillips Katz Director of the Block Museum of Art, and Essie Rӧnkkӧ, the museum’s cultural research associate for special projects, described how they joined with faculty members across Northwestern for the recent exhibition project “Paint the Eyes Softer: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt.” The project, which gained national and international media coverage, included research and faculty expertise from classics, art history, sound arts, materials science, computer science, medicine and archaeology.
  • Peter Civetta, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and a lecturer with the Cook Family Writing Program and the Theater Department, spoke about understanding the performance context of the meeting environment and how to use this knowledge to facilitate more interactive and impactful meetings.
  • In another session, a panel consisting of Kourtney Cockrell, the inaugural director of Student Enrichment Services for the Division of Student Affairs, Amy Metelsky, a business analyst with Student Affairs, and Susan Olson, assistant dean for Student Affairs in the School of Education and Social Policy, talked about removing financial barriers that can impact students’ performance.
  • Diane Wayne, vice dean for education and the Dr. John Sherman Appleman Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, spoke about improving student wellbeing, including initiatives that have reduced student burnout and distress at Feinberg.

In delivering closing remarks, Marianna Kepka, associate vice president for the Office of Change Management, offered frameworks on change leadership and encouraged attendees to think about opportunities to effect change directly in their own units.

“Our hope is that what you learned today will inspire you to think critically about your own processes, structures, cultures to identify where you can become a change agent and help us together build a culture of change, nimbleness and continuous improvement,” Kepka said. 

For more information about the forum and individual panels and presentations, visit the Best Practices Forum website.


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