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Shanna Benjamin selected for prestigious academic leadership program

Associate dean of students Shanna Benjamin looks forward to leadership. growth. Contributed photo.

It is not often that one can say they were selected to be part of an elite leadership academy. Grinnell College is lucky to have one of these select few individuals as part of its faculty.

Shanna Benjamin, associate dean and associate professor of English, was chosen by The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) to partake in the 2017-2018 Senior Leadership Academy.

According to the CIC’s website, the Senior Leadership Academy is “a year-long program for mid-level administrators in higher education who aspire to senior leadership positions in independent colleges or universities.” 

Simply being considered for this program is extremely prestigious, as the institution of the individual must recognize potential for senior leadership positions. Benjamin said that Mike Latham, dean of students, nominated her for the position. Benjamin plans on using her resources on and off campus to make the most out of CIC.

“I became involved with this leadership program when my colleagues in the dean’s office, Karla Erickson and Maria Tapias, suggested I apply. [Erickson and Tapias] completed the program before me and thought that it would be a useful experience. I reviewed the call for applications and program overview. In the process, I realized that the CIC opportunity would deepen my strengths as an associate dean, provide me with networking opportunities and help me better understand how units across campus (admissions and financial aid, the CLS office, the finance department, and the strategic planning team) work independently and collaborate in support of the college’s mission,” said Benjamin.

“In this experience, I want to learn from the CIC program administrators, take advantage of Mike Latham’s knowledge and experience and learn how admissions, the CLS, our strategic planning team and finance office strategize, set goals and get work done,” Benjamin said. “Networking with the other participants is also at the top of my list because your colleagues across campuses are outstanding sources of support, encouragement, and insight. I will also keep my eyes peeled for colleagues who might benefit from an experience like this. I want to look out for other administrators the way Karla and Maria looked out for me.”

The Senior Leadership Academy works to prepare capable individuals to excel in positions of senior leadership. As stated on the CIC’s website, this program creates growth in leadership by imparting individuals with “considerable knowledge, skills and experiences that are germane to the portfolio of responsibilities and activities central to the work of a college or university vice president or cabinet officer.” 

“Competition for the available places in the program was intense, and the review committee found the nomination materials to be most impressive. They (and I) believe [Benjamin] has the potential for highly effective leadership in a position of senior responsibility on campus,” said CIC President Richard Ekman, quoted in a press release from the College.   

Benjamin will take part in an opening seminar from Nov. 3-5 in San Antonio and a closing seminar from June 21-23 in Washington, D.C. Benjamin will undergo a mentoring program, collaborate with experts, partake in webinars and work with various readings and case studies throughout the current academic year. 

Benjamin sees this program as a step toward career advancement that will benefit not only herself but the College as well. 

“I am honored to be part of such an energetic and diverse group of up-and-coming leaders,” Benjamin said in the same press release from the College. “I look forward to using all I will learn as a CIC Senior Leadership Academy participant in my administrative work at Grinnell College.” 

Some of Benjamin’s future goals include obtaining a new title.

“I aspire to become a college president,” Benjamin said. “The leadership experiences I’ve had and will continue to seek out will help me to sharpen the tools in my toolbox. I look forward to putting it all to work.” 

Participants in the Senior Leadership Academy have made noticeable advancements in their careers. According to the CIC’s website, 61 percent of the individuals in the 2010-2011 cohort have moved up to leadership positions of greater responsibility. This trend continues in more recent cohorts as well, including individuals from 2012 and years subsequent. 

Benjamin believes that she has always been on the path towards leadership, starting early when she became the newsletter editor in sixth grade and president of her eighth grade class. Her undergraduate career at Johnson C. Smith University, a historically Black college in Charlotte, NC, brought her leadership skills into fruition.

“In my senior year, I served as a student representative on the board of trustees at the very moment Dorothy Cowser Yancy became our first woman president,” Benjamin said. “Participating in board-level conversations about the future of my alma mater with a woman at the helm was all it took to spark my interest in and commitment to higher education administration and leadership.”

Since then, Benjamin has participated in many leadership programs. Most recently, Benjamin participated in the Higher Education Resource Service Institute for Women (HERS) and helped raise $12,000 to give scholarships to women from under-resourced institutions. 

Grinnell College is fortunate to have such an accomplished individual on its faculty. There is no doubt that the Senior Leadership Academy will be a positive influence for both Benjamin and the College. 

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