To be a successful educational leader, one utilizes a variety of characteristics and traits. The process of setting and attaining goals, for instance, is mostly driven by a clear vision and effective communications that exemplify clarity, conciseness, and courtesy Effective leaders in higher education are constantly communicating with staff, faculty, students, families, stakeholders, and community partners and use the feedback to analyze, change course, and make sound decisions.
Dalia Sherif, an accomplished educational leader and Executive Dean of Baccalaureate Programs at Lone Star College (LSC), asserts that “Communication is not only about saying the right things to the right people at the right time, but more importantly, it is about verbal attention, active listening, as well as body language.”
Educating her Dreams
Dalia was born and raised in Egypt, near the great pyramids. Her father urged her to “dare to dream” as she was growing up. It all started during her freshman year of college when she was awarded a Suma Cum Laude merit scholarship, changed her major to business administration, and fell in love with liberal education. Dalia landed her dream job when she was hired by the U.S. Department of Commerce at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, allowing her to work in Egypt and the U.S., capturing and enjoying the best of both worlds. She did that while also enrolled in an MBA program in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was raising her three kids. She laughingly says that she earned her MBA on a plane, because her frequent 36 hours-flights (with multiple stops) from Cairo to Washington, D.C. was her quality time to go through graduate school despite her busy life. When she earned her MBA, she geared up for her Ph.D., and graduated with a PhD in Organizational Psychology.
Dalia felt that education was the quickest route to fulfill her dreams. With that resolve, she developed into a lifelong student as well as a professional dreamer. She believes that dreams do not come true by coincidence. Dreams are there to remind you of what George Elliott once said, “it’s never too late to be who you might have been!”. She also understood that the best form of preparation is to keep learning and preparing yourself to be ready for every opportunity coming your way. The magical moment of luck happens only when opportunity meets preparedness. Dalia has been applying these lessons since she graduated from high school and until she was onboarded as an Executive Dean at Lone Star College, being a fearless new immigrant.
A Superlative Education Experience at Lone Star College
Lone Star College System’s mission is to provide comprehensive educational opportunities and programs to enrich lives. Lone Star College’s vision is to be a model college globally recognized for achieving exceptional levels of success in student learning, student completion, gainful employment, equity, and affordability. The faculty members of Lone Star College strive to create a notion of world citizenry in students. In that pursuit, they model ways of thinking and being that incorporate diversity, equality, and equity. They are innovative in the pursuit of learning. Ultimately, they create a culture where learning thrives, people are safe, and mirror the qualities of world citizenry.
Lone Star College has recently launched a Bachelor’s of Applied Science in Emergency Management in addition to the Bachelor’s of Applied Technology in Cyber Security, Bachelor’s of Applied Science in Energy, Manufacturing and Trades Management, and Bachelor’s of Applied Science in Nursing. For the new Emergency Management program, the world-class professors at Lone Star College will focus on mitigation, prevention, readiness, reaction, and recovery techniques during natural and man-made disasters. Faculty are utilizing both in-class and extracurricular teaching and learning techniques to help students create and put into practice comprehensive community planning, coordination, and management strategies. Graduates will be qualified for positions such as emergency manager and emergency planner. Students can find employment with corporations, energy companies, ports, military bases, municipal, state, and federal governments, as well as healthcare institutions.
Being the Executive Dean for the LSC’s newly launched baccalaureate degrees, Dalia has played a significant role in their growth and tripling their enrollment in just two years. One of Dalia’s main goals is to instill and foster a culture of student success and a ‘wow’ customer service experience. Developing such a culture is a result of the synergy in teamwork. The LSC bachelor’s team has continuously demonstrated a commitment to service excellence and a methodical approach to curriculum improvement through their everyday leadership and innovation.
Additionally, as education is rooted in meaningful change, effective leadership causes agile navigation of process improvement, reorienting to embrace and serve the students’ evolving needs, and continuously gauging their satisfaction through asking for their feedback. Constantly critiquing present procedures, educational initiatives, and collaborative endeavors can be very difficult. However, this is the secret recipe to creating an action plan for significant change, robust growth, and ongoing development.
Issues to be Addressed
According to Dalia, finding enough mentors is an emerging problem in today’s higher education system. Some faculty members focus on the classroom teaching and learning experience at the expense of creating extracurricular mentorship endeavors. Educators are natural role models for students and hence, have a mentorship responsibility to engage students and instill leadership and critical thinking skills in them. The best approach to ensure that your lessons are remembered by students and that the information they are grasping is put to use is to be their strongest advocate, and to listen and guide them inside and outside the classroom.
Emphasizing Work-Life Integration
The concept of work-life balance revolves around maintaining rigid boundaries between your work and personal life. Dalia has shifted to using work-life integration rather than work-life balance after listening to various productivity coaches. Work-life integration blurs the rigid boundaries between life and work, where they both feed off of each other creating synergies between work, family, community, personal well-being, and health, which are all part of one’s life. Dalia likes to read, skate, bike, play table tennis, and practice yoga. In order to motivate herself to pursue her hobbies and avoid losing them, she plans these activities in advance for the entire month. Serving the community is another source of fulfillment for her. Dalia says, “I actually found out from Emma Seppala’s book, The Happiness Track, that altruistic activities like community service can boost your happiness by 23%.” She engages in volunteering to mentor high school students as well as being on the scholarship committees at the East End Chamber of Commerce and Women Professionals in Government in her local area. Since these are communities that she is a part of, it is easier to find time to immerse herself in service.
Dalia’s guiding principles include the commitment to life-long learning. Learning to her is like installing a new software update, if it is not completed often, the system will slow down or potentially shut down. It does not have to be the next certificate or credential; it could be a new skill or a new book to read. This is particularly what makes educators have an extraordinary vision when they advocate or mentor other learners. It is the joy of teaching and learning, where we can learn from our own students as much as they learn from us. Lifelong learning is not only nurturing one’s mind but also for mental well-being and self-esteem. Exploring new passions and opportunities is the gateway to connecting with like-minded individuals and building our powerful professional network. She always tells her students “your network is part of your net worth.”
One more nugget she shared is to never stop at the finish line. The Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that culminates in self-actualization truly raises the bar as we grow professionally. The famous saying “I didn’t come this far to only come this far” is a true depiction of our professional journey. We are incredible creative beings and we have the ability to turn our dreams into a physical reality in a process very similar to how pressure makes diamonds. Think beyond the finish line, push your finish line further, and know that you only grow by igniting the spark of resilience outside of your comfort zone. She added, “Your best self is the one craving new challenges and emerging from setbacks.”
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