President Bradley Lauds Professional Development Program19 Vassar Administrators Complete Five-Month Course

Joseph Chorba has worked as an investigator in Vassar’s Safety and Security Department since 2017. Capria Berry has been at Vassar since 2015 and is currently director of the college’s Transitions Program, which provides support to first generation, low-income and /or undocumented students. But like many Vassar employees who work in different offices, Chorba and Berry had never met each other—until February. That’s when both enrolled in a new professional development program aimed at enhancing the management skills of those in administrative positions.

Nineteen Vassar Administrators and facilitator David Berg (top row, third from right) celebrate the completion of a five-month professional development program.Photo: Karl Rabe

Chorba, Berry and 17 other Vassar employees took part in the program’s first graduation ceremony June 6 in the Faculty Parlor. “My vision and hope has been that Vassar would be a place where we demonstrate and embody the very best quality of administration in higher education,” President Elizabeth Bradley told the participants as she presented them with certificates for completing the five-month course. “I believe in the power of organizations to make a difference in the world. And critical to the performance of any organization is its management—exactly what you all do. Thank-you, and congratulations.”

Bradley selected David Berg, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University, to run the program. Berg has overseen educational sessions in management skills at Yale Medical School and the University of Pennsylvania. Vassar’s training program started with a two-day seminar, followed by monthly workshops on management skills. A final two-day session culminated with the graduation ceremony.

Berg said a primary goal of the course was helping participants learn how to invest in relationships. In each session, he introduced new tools for enhancing relationships, and the administrators devised ways to practice using these tools. By gaining a better understanding about the function of each department at the college, Berg said, the participants were able to “open up lines of understanding what we observe about each other.” He said people often infer that personality differences are often the cause of conflict or misunderstanding, but in a complex organization such as a college, the key to better working relationships more often hinges on understanding the functions of each employee in each department.

In one exercise, Berg paired administrators from different departments and had them devise a project together. One pair of administrators brought pets to the library during exam period to help students relieve some stress. Chorba and Berry created a newsletter for the Safety and Security Department to highlight achievements by security officers that may otherwise have gone unrecognized. “We saw our project as a morale-building exercise,” Chorba said. “This exercise and others throughout the course helped me be a better manager.”

Berry agreed. “The course was all about looking outward into the Vassar community and helping us think about the relationship between what each of us is doing and the rest of the campus as a whole,” they said. “The course put my work into greater context and will help me be successful. In the future, when my students need help, I won’t simply refer them to a certain department; I’ll know someone in that department.”

Jasmine Mitchell, program manager in the Campus Activities Office, said the course provided her with “a unique opportunity to get to know people in the departments that I never had before. Learning how and why people function the way they do will enable me to strategize in more effective ways and help me be a more successful employee.”

Berg said he often heard such comments from participants during the course. “Many of them told me about the connections they had made with others in the course,” he said. “They reported that being a part of this project had made their jobs not just easier, but also more enjoyable.”

Chorba said he hoped other Vassar administrators would have an opportunity to take part such workshops in the future. “Absolutely—a course liked this would benefit anyone in an administrative role here,” he said. “Vassar is a diverse community with people from all walks of life, and knowing more about the people in that community and how they interact is valuable for all of us.”

Bradley said she purposely let Berg and the participants finish their work before she began the process of deciding on the next step in continuing professional development at the college. Now that the five-month session has been completed, she said she would seek input from them to assess how best to continue that process. “I’d like to understand how this first cohort experienced the program,” she said. “Once they have evaluated it, we will decide if we should repeat the program, but so far the feedback has been very positive.”

Other participants in the program, in addition to Chorba, Berry and Mitchell, were: