Working Group 3: Change Leaders

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Mission Statement

Change agents have many different job titles and come from many different levels of an organization. They may be in administrative positions with clear responsibility for undergraduate STEM education, but often they are not. Change agents need to have skills in leading initiatives without positional power, building consensus among peers, active listening, and "managing up" to others in administrative positions. Little is known about the best ways to develop these skills given the many demands on change agents' time. This working group will identify important roles and activities in the change process and articulate how people in different organizational levels and positions accomplish change. They will pay particular attention to who must be engaged in change efforts, what skills they need, and how these skills can be developed.

Knowledge Claims and Established Ideas

Our primary knowledge claim is that there is a broad knowledge base on leadership development and supporting many types of change agents, including many excellent examples of professional development opportunities, but that these resources are decentralized across many fields of scholarship, and not readily available to the stakeholders that this group represents.

In particular, we claim:

  1. Change leaders are not necessarily capital-L "Leaders". There are multiple types of change agents (formal change agents, informal change agents, administrators, faculty, postdocs, staff, etc.). There is increased attention to the need to support leaders who do not have positional leadership roles. Such people need permission to access data and resources to enact change, and a national community so that they do not work in isolation.

  2. It takes a village. There are multiple roles for these change agents (creating program vision, creating change models, analyzing data, acquiring and allocating resources, persuading and building political support,, implementation of change, evaluation of change). It is incorrect to assume that any one person can embody all these roles. It takes many types of people to lead change.

  3. The skills needed are known, but scattered. There are many different skills required to lead change, and these core skills can be defined as a the Knowledge/Skills/Attributes, or KSA, requirements for change agents, which include the affective domain of "change agency" - motivation and empowerment to lead change. These skills are scattered through the literature.

  4. The knowledge is not easily accessed. There is a substantial body of knowledge in how to support change agents which is inaccessible because (a) we do not publish our failures as a community, (b) there is a hidden "grey literature" from program evaluation studies, and (c) it is scattered across domains of scholarship (e.g., organizational change, business, STEM education, economics, etc.) and STEM disciplines.

  5. To support leaders, we need to interface across multiple disciplines. Many disciplinary societies and organizations (ACS, AAPT, NAGT, PKAL, CIRTL) offer leadership development opportunities for faculty and other change agents. If we are to support STEM-wide leadership growth, we need better coordination across these disciplinary efforts, starting with awareness of what is already done, and potentially leading to sharing insights and data across programs.

Key Questions

  • What specific roles are needed to guide change initiatives? How might these roles vary at different 
types of institutions? What are the characteristics of individuals who best fulfill these roles? 

  • What kind of training do change agents need? How much? Where should they get it? 
Are skills for change agents different than other types of leadership skills? What skills are general and which are specific to positional roles (dean, provost) or non-positional roles? How does this training instill a sense of "change agency" – motivation and empowerment to enact change?
  • What kinds of ongoing support do change agents need? What kinds of networks and "learning communities" exist or should be developed? What kind of support can the ASCN offer in this? How does this support continue to drive a sense of "change agency" – motivation and empowerment to enact change?
  • What are the common and desired career trajectories for change agents? What experiences and 
skills do they develop at each stage? 

  • How can individual change agent development be aligned with systemic change issues? What is the role of systems thinking, organizational dynamics, and succession planning in change agent 
E.g., how do we take into account organizational change practice research, administrative practice in higher education? How does the individual change agent connect and relate to various levels of the educational system (department, campus, intercampus, network)?
  • What role does local context play in determining the above? E.g., the spectrum of institution types, missions, and history?
  • What knowledge is, and is not, appropriate to borrow from other areas of literature? E.g., what pieces of business models (like Change Management) can be adapted to higher education? What are the barriers to doing so?

Potential Outcomes or Products


1. List of ways to engage the ASCN network (activities that the ASCN could provide to promote change agency).

2. List of compiled professional development opportunities (formal and informal) that specifically focus on change agency.

3. Map/competency model of change agent skills (for individuals, for teams, for programs).

4. Guidance on providing professional development opportunities, such as identification of best practices, synthesis of best practices from diverse sources, etc.

5. A targeted resource list for change agents, including the "top 5 articles" on change agency.

6. List of quality metrics and measurements for evaluating change leader programs (formative and summative), in collaboration with Working Group 4 (Measurement).

Action Plan for Moving Forward

Of the above outcomes, we would like to first work on:

  1. Develop mechanisms to engage members and potential members of the ASCN network with activities that promote change agency, in a "just in time" fashion:
    • Create a virtual "watercooler" where individuals can gather online to bring ideas, pose problems, and engage in conversation.
    • Employ an online tool that can push content to members and potential members (such as STEMProf)
    • Share recent events (conversations, meetings, publications, etc.) that relate to change agency and STEM education
    • Post short notices with information about these events to the network
  2. Identify and compile professional development opportunities (formal and informal) that specifically focus on change agency:

    • Create a master list of the professional development opportunities that Working Group 3 members know about that address change agency (including opportunities offered by professional societies, by higher education associations, etc.)
    • Provide reflection on what the value the opportunity gives. i.e., why was this transformative?

We feel that these two action items would allow us to build a clear sense of what benefit the ASCN would provide to members.

Group Leaders

  • Robert Hilborn, American Association of Physics Teachers
  • Julia M. Williams, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
  • Stephanie Chasteen, University of Colorado at Boulder

Group Members

  • Marilyn Amey, Michigan State University
  • Maria Andersen, Western Governors University
  • Cynthia Bauerle, James Madison University
  • Heather Belmont, Miami Dade College
  • Sean Bridgen, Penn State University
  • Maura Borrego, University of Texas, Austin
  • Renee Cole, University of Iowa
  • Susan Elrod, University of Wisconsin, Whitewater
  • Todd Fernandez, Purdue University
  • Linnea Fletcher, Austin Community College
  • Jeffrey Froyd, Texax A&M University
  • Howard Gobstein, APLU
  • Ryan Kelsey
  • Heather Macdonald, College of William & Mary
  • Emily Miller, AAU
  • Kurt Paterson, James Madison University
  • Simon Peacock, University of British Columbia
  • Edward Prather, University of Arizona
  • Louise Wrensford, Albany State University