Journal of Nursing Education

Personal Reflections on Leadership 

Building Social Capital: Leading and Leveraging Constituencies Outside the College

Jane Marie Kirschling, DNS, RN

Abstract

Building social capital for a college and discipline requires actively engaging in the work of the university and creating partnerships with stakeholders outside the university, who share common areas of interest. As a public university dean for the past 5 years, I have found this work demands a considerable investment of time, energy, and stamina to maintain the vision of ultimate success. This article discusses three lessons I have learned in this journey as a new dean: serving as dean involves more than your college; a dean must actively engage in the work of the university as a whole and advocate for other colleges within the university; and a dean must take time to engage stakeholders outside the university.

Dr. Kirschling is Dean and Professor of Nursing, College of Nursing and Health Professions, University of Southern Maine, Portland, Maine. She was also a Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellow, 2000–2003.

Address correspondence to Jane Marie Kirschling, DNS, RN, Dean and Professor of Nursing, College of Nursing and Health Professions, University of Southern Maine, 96 Falmouth Street, PO Box 9300, Portland, ME 04104-9300; e-mail: jane.kirschling@usm.maine.edu.

Abstract

Building social capital for a college and discipline requires actively engaging in the work of the university and creating partnerships with stakeholders outside the university, who share common areas of interest. As a public university dean for the past 5 years, I have found this work demands a considerable investment of time, energy, and stamina to maintain the vision of ultimate success. This article discusses three lessons I have learned in this journey as a new dean: serving as dean involves more than your college; a dean must actively engage in the work of the university as a whole and advocate for other colleges within the university; and a dean must take time to engage stakeholders outside the university.

Dr. Kirschling is Dean and Professor of Nursing, College of Nursing and Health Professions, University of Southern Maine, Portland, Maine. She was also a Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellow, 2000–2003.

Address correspondence to Jane Marie Kirschling, DNS, RN, Dean and Professor of Nursing, College of Nursing and Health Professions, University of Southern Maine, 96 Falmouth Street, PO Box 9300, Portland, ME 04104-9300; e-mail: jane.kirschling@usm.maine.edu.

The following quotations reinforce the critical nature of connections and relationships:

The new currency of the Internet Age isn't simply intellectual capital; it's social capital—the collective value of the people we know and what we'll do for each other. When social connections are strong and numerous there's more trust, reciprocity, information flow, collective action, and even happiness.

Leaders...must make it a part of their personal agenda to get connected to the sources of information, resources, and influence they need to get extraordinary things done.

During the past 5 years, through serving as dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions at the University of Southern Maine (USM), I have come to understand the importance of social capital to the success of the college. My previous roles within higher education, including 5 years as associate dean at two academic health centers and 10 years as a nursing faculty member, provided a solid foundation for undertaking the role of dean. However, that experience afforded limited opportunities to enlist others outside my college to help the college move forward with its vision for the future.

Following are three lessons I have learned, since becoming a dean, about leading and leveraging outside constituencies to build social capital:

  • Serving as dean involves more than your college.
  • A dean must actively engage in the work of the university as a whole and advocate for other colleges within the university.
  • A dean must take time to engage stakeholders outside the university.

Serving as Dean Involves More Than Your College

All deans are expected to effectively manage fiscal resources, academic personnel, and internal productivity within their respective school or college (Wolverton & Gmelch, 2002). Although these roles can be difficult and time consuming, especially in public universities faced with ever-decreasing financial resources for meeting their missions, they are understood and accepted. Conversely, expectations about deans' roles in scholarship, leadership, and external and political relations, although no less important, are often less clear (Wolverton & Gmelch, 2002).

The role relating to external and political relations is particularly relevant to a discussion of social capital. For example, at the start of my second year as dean at USM, a new provost joined the university and challenged the deans to spend one third of their time within their academic unit, one third within the university, and one third outside the university. This challenge clearly sanctioned taking advantage of opportunities to get involved within the larger university and also on the state and national levels.

A Dean Must Actively Engage in the Work of the University as a Whole and Advocate for Other Colleges Within the University

Every day, I skim the local newspaper for articles related to USM. I also routinely skim the Chronicle of Higher Education and other higher education publications, such as Change: The Magazine of Higher Education, which is published by the American Association for Higher Education, and Connection: The Journal of the New England Board of Higher Education. These publications help broaden my view of higher education and shape my understanding of emerging issues.

Although I have a heavy workload, I have yet to decline a request from one of the president's council members to serve on, or chair, a committee or working group. These opportunities have allowed me to get to know administrators, faculty, and staff from outside the college, and to offer the college's voice in shaping the future of USM.

Whenever possible, I attend faculty senate meetings (deans at USM are ex officio members). Hearing reports from the president and provost firsthand and participating in discussions of university-wide issues allows me to more effectively sort through their implications for my own college. Attending the meetings also gives me the opportunity to ask questions and comment on issues that will affect my own college. Recent examples include the proposed 2004–2007 academic calendar, the charge and membership of a newly formed general education council, the goals and objectives of general education at the university, and the definitions of “independent study” and “course by contract.”

Finally, I routinely advocate for academic units outside my own that affect nursing and the other academic programs within the college. For example, during the past 5 years, the number of graduates from our RN-preparation programs (which include a traditional baccalaureate program, an accelerated baccalaureate program, and a master's-entry program) has grown significantly. The number of graduating students increased from 59 during the 1999–2000 academic year to 109 during 2003–2004 and 139 during 2004–2005. Increasing enrollment in our nursing programs directly affects, and is affected by, the facilities and teaching workload of the science departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. Therefore, I must care about relevant issues in those departments. For example, to address nursing's need for additional laboratory sections, I convened a series of meetings with the associate dean and relevant arts and sciences department faculty. The meetings confirmed that our requested expansion of biology laboratory sections was limited by that department's existing faculty and equipment. My subsequent advocacy resulted in the hiring of a full-time laboratory coordinator for the biology department, which freed faculty to teach other courses, and in having the provost assign higher priority to replacing science laboratory equipment.

A Dean Must Take Time to Engage Stakeholders Outside the University

My work outside the university has been greatly influenced by my 3 years (2000–2003) as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Nurse Fellow. Early in the program, when fellows were challenged to make a difference in an area about which they felt passionate, I elected to focus on nursing workforce development in Maine. At that time, limited work was being done to address the state's evolving nursing shortage, and the issue also dovetailed nicely with my “day job” as dean.

Maine has not yet experienced the same degree of shortage as some other states, which provides a window of opportunity to expand capacity within Maine's 13 nursing programs. However, the state has limited financial resources for program expansion, and the state legislature has not considered health care workforce development a funding priority. Since 2000, through building social capital (i.e., finding external partners in the higher education and health care sectors who have a vested interest in the issue, working with them to leverage our combined resources, commitment, and influence), I have helped create a solid, broad-based constituency for nursing workforce development in the state. Our activities have increased public awareness of Maine's evolving nursing shortage and helped create a statewide commitment to address it. In addition, my decision to focus on leveraging constituencies outside the college and university has resulted in increasing statewide recognition for the college and university.

Major partners in the nursing workforce development constituency include the Organization of Maine Nursing Executives (OMNE) Nursing Leaders of Maine, the Maine Hospital Association, the Maine State Board of Nursing, and the nursing education programs. One initiative of the partnership has been the institution of an annual, day-long Maine Nursing Summit for nurses, employers, and educators to identify issues, trends, and strategies to meet nursing practice needs in the state. (By the third summit in 2004, 32 people had been involved in at least one of the planning committees, and a total of approximately 600 people had attended the summit.)

Other initiatives include various data collection projects that have served to shape constituency strategies, while providing accurate information to both the legislature and the community. For example, to understand the pipeline of new graduates, the partnership established an annual survey of nursing education programs. The partnership also piloted a minimum data set for Maine nurses at the time of relicensure, disseminated the report throughout the state, established the final data set, and provided full, 2-year relicensure data.

Through OMNE, the partnership has introduced two proposals to the state legislature, one concerning nursing program expansion and the other a faculty loan repayment program. Although we have not yet succeeded in getting legislation passed due to state fiscal constraints, the legislature did request, and OMNE provided, a report on Maine's nursing workforce (Ponti et al., 2002, May) and a report on educational capacity (Harvey-McPherson et al., 2004). A total of 24 people were involved in task force meetings to prepare these reports. In addition, the earlier report was endorsed by seven organizations (American Nurses Association-Maine, Home Care Alliance of Maine, Maine Hospital Association, Maine Medical Association, Maine Nurse Practitioner Association, Maine Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration, and OMNE). The legislative educational committee recently asked the university and community college systems to jointly review the educational capacity report policy recommendations, which include permanent funding for ongoing nursing workforce data collection and analysis, a nursing faculty loan repayment program, increased faculty wages, and nursing program expansion. The legislative committee also requested the systems “work together to develop a strategic plan that responds to the nursing workforce shortage in Maine” and recommend strategies to expand the capacity of nursing preparation programs.

Influencing legislative agendas takes time and patience. So far, our efforts have been largely educational, serving to raise awareness of Maine's nursing shortage. Strategic planning work between the university and community college systems will be an important next step in setting priorities for Maine's limited resources. At every step, identifying and working with stakeholders external to USM and nursing has been, and will continue to be, vital to getting an issue on the legislative table.

Summary

Building social capital for one's college and discipline requires actively engaging in the work of the university as a whole and creating partnerships with stakeholders outside the university around a common area of interest. As a public university dean, I have found this work demands considerable investment of time, energy, and stamina to maintain a successful vision. Actualizing the provost's challenge to divide my time between the college, the university, and the external community has allowed me to make a clear commitment to something about which I feel passionate, to greatly enhance the effectiveness of my efforts, and to truly influence outcomes.

References

  • Harvey-McPherson, L., Kirschling, J.M., Albert, R., Brunner, S., Cooley, N. & Douglass, J. et al. (2004, January). Report and recommendations of the OMNE Task Force: 2003 overview of Maine's nursing graduate capacity. Retrieved September 15, 2004, from http://www.usm.maine.edu/conhp/2003OverviewGradCap.pdf
  • Kouzes, J.M. & Posner, B.Z. (2003). Academic administrator's guide to exemplary leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Ponti, M.A., Whitehead, B., Bethanis, S., Broadway, M., Bosica, T. & Harvey-McPherson, L. et al. (2002, May). Report and recommendations of the OMNE Task Force: 2002 overview of Maine's nursing and health care work-force. Retrieved September 15, 2004, from http://www.usm.maine.edu/conhp/omne_report.pdf
  • Wolverton, M. & Gmelch, W.H. (2002). College deans: Leading from within. Westport, CT: American Council on Education and Oryx Press.

10.3928/01484834-20041101-05

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