Texas A&M AgriLife Leadership Program Focuses on Development, Fosters Inner-System Relationships

By: Mollie Lastovica

Associate Professor and Department Head Tracy Rutherford, Ph.D., along with Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist Jeff Ripley, Ph.D., were recognized as members of Cohort One of the Texas A&M AgriLife Advanced Leadership Program during the 2013 Texas A&M AgriLife Conference Jan. 8.

The Advanced Leadership Program was developed by Vice Chancellor and Dean for Agriculture and Life Sciences, Mark Hussey, Ph.D., as a way to encourage professional engagement in the Texas A&M University System and land-grant mission through leadership development over an 18-month period.

“We are changing the culture as we address system problems,” Hussey said during his remarks to conference attendees, “This program is just the start in that direction of providing new opportunities for faculty, employees and students.”

Rutherford and Ripley began their participation in the Advanced Leadership Program in the spring of 2010 through an application process. Upon their May 2010 acceptance to the program, the 15 members of Cohort One that represented each branch of the Agriculture and Life Sciences system met for their first session together in August 2010.

“I chose to apply knowing it would help me make connections across the system,” Rutherford said. “We interacted with a lot of speakers that normally work with much larger groups.”

Both Rutherford and Ripley were grateful for the opportunity to work with colleagues from across the system.

“We were able to interact one-one-one with people we normally would not meet with,” Ripley said. “Throughout the sessions, representatives of each component of the system presented advocacy programs so we could really see what their job entails. Before, I knew they were there, but did not know exactly what they did.”

Participants in the program not only heard from a range of speakers over the 18-month period, but also engaged in team building activities and personal development.

“We don’t get to do a lot of personal development in our position,” Rutherford said. “This is a nice refresher. I learned to ask things like, ‘What is my personal role and what do I need to do to make myself more valuable to the organization?’”

The group traveled across the state of Texas to see different parts of the Texas A&M System in action.

“It was neat to see and experience components of the system that we take for granted,” Ripley said. “Getting outside of our little group gave me a much better understanding of what the Land Grant System truly is about.”

Rutherford especially enjoyed the activities where program participants were required to let their guard down and be personal.

“It forced us to drop that professional persona and just get real with each other,” Rutherford said.

The session in which a crisis situation was stimulated and participants had to respond accordingly was most memorable to Ripley.

“It was a great day seeing how people reacted to and handled certain situations,” Ripley said.

Both actively involved in the advancement of the ALEC Department, Ripley and Rutherford also saw their participation in this program as beneficial to the department.

“Being a social science department, we do a lot of connecting groups together and working on information exchange,” Rutherford said. “Programs like this help other departments see what we do.”

Professional relationships and friendships among members of the cohort also came to fruition over the program’s duration.

“Overall, the program was very well done,” Ripley said. “It was an opportunity to work with others who did not know what we did and I made a lot of good friends.”

“We created this close-knit peer group,” Rutherford said. “Now, if something happens within the group, you know about it. We were able to create unique relationships based on experiences together.”

Although Cohort One celebrated their graduation from the program in January 2012, they have assisted in some of the activities of Cohort Two, now underway. Additionally, the group makes an effort to reunite at various system-wide events like the Texas A&M AgriLife Conference.

“We probably crossed paths with a lot of these people, but didn’t know it before this program,” Rutherford said. “Now, if there are events that we can all be at, we make it a priority to be there.”

To learn more about the Texas A&M AgriLife Advanced Leadership Program including activities of Cohort Two and how to apply to the program, click here.


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