Initial Publication Date: April 10, 2020

Develop distributed leadership

This page was developed by Laura Reed (University of Alabama) and Randal Abler (Georgia Tech University).

CUREs tend to be initiated by one or a few champions at their institution. Over time, leadership should become distributed so that the CURE is not disrupted by the loss of a single person due to burn out, retirement, relocation, and the like. Distributing the responsibility so a team is functioning as leadership can offer social support to the leaders in their work, improve the ideas with more brains available for problem-solving, and lighten the work load on any single individual.

Assemble leadership teams

Leading a CURE initiative is a tremendous amount of work that places a heavy burden on a single individual championing a CURE over a long time. While many CURE initiatives begin this way, it is risky to rely on a single individual leader in the long term. A single leader may experience burnout or leave the institution for any number of reasons, which may place the CURE initiative at risk if no one else is able to step into that role.

At Santa Rosa Junior College, the initial CURE champion has experienced burnout from the heavy workload. They are interested in developing a rotating, distributed leadership structure to combat this problem.
The Biochemistry Authentic Scientific Inquiry Lab (BASIL) is experiencing challenges with a heavy work load for the core team. They are in the process of moving towards a distributed leadership model with a three-team organizational structure: assessment, expansion & support of BASIL adoption, and BASIL curriculum expansion.

Leading a CURE involves a wide variety of tasks that require various skills. A diverse team with expertise in different areas is well-suited to this. Critical functions of a CURE leadership team may include: assessing programmatic outcomes, leading faculty professional development, guiding the science of the project, developing and maintaining infrastructure, curriculum development, fundraising and grant writing, publication writing, and more. It is a tall order to expect one individual to be able to carry out all of these tasks well. Team leadership allows individuals to take on tasks that align well with their skills, expertise, and interests. Teams are also able to capitalize on the diverse strengths of their members.

The Genomics Education Partnership created a formalized committee structure to support four major functions: Science & IT, Assessment, Curriculum, and Professional Development & Mentoring. Committee leadership and membership are determined by the self-identified interests of the faculty involved. For example, people especially interested in assessment and science education lead the assessment committee, while others more motivated by the scientific questions are part of the Science and IT committee.
The Freshman Research Initiative at UT Austin has a leadership team involving directors and assistant directors who take the administrative burden off of the research faculty and instructors.

Plan ahead

Having a long-term strategy for growth and leadership succession is critical for ensuring the long-term sustainability of a CURE initiative. It is important to have a formalized plan for leadership succession. Having leadership turnover can help keep ideas fresh by bringing in new minds and perspectives. However, if leadership turnover occurs too frequently or new leaders are not sufficiently prepared, turnover can threaten the stability of the CURE. It is important to think about how experienced leaders will mentor incoming leaders so that institutional knowledge necessary for keeping the program running is maintained.

The Freshman Research Initiative at UT Austin has experienced challenges with continuity as leadership shifted between individuals over time. Sharing of responsibility and knowledge amongst a diverse leadership group has provided critical mass in leadership that allowed the FRI program to continue to thrive.
The Genomics Education Partnership created their formalized committee structure at the 2017 alumni meeting. At this meeting, they developed bylaws regarding quorums, succession, and the like through a consensus process. The bylaws established a three-year term for committee chairs where individuals start as vice chairs, move to chair, and then past-chair for most standing committees. This strategy helps maintain continuity and mentor developing leaders.

It can be helpful to establish growth benchmarks or milestones for the leadership team. For example, as programs grow, the administrative burden increases, although not always incrementally. It can be helpful to set goals to hire additional team leaders or administrators when the program grows to a certain size or reaches certain benchmarks or milestones.

The Vertically Integrated Projects program advises new institutions to hire a staff-level program manager when they reach 10 teams at the institution. They have found that it can be helpful to establish these agreements with the institution before the benchmark is reached.