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Maternal and Child Health Post-Graduate Leadership Academy Retreat Hosted at UGA

Leadership Academy

Posted Nov. 29
Reported by Emily Williams

Participants in the Maternal and Child Health Post-Graduate Leadership Academy convened at the University of Georgia in July for their second immersion retreat in the yearlong program. The academy, a collaboration between University of Maryland and University of Georgia Schools of Social Work, trains leaders in maternal and child health settings who want to take on more leadership roles in their careers.

"We're not just talking about leadership, we are doing things that leaders do. We are moving people into action rather than just doing an intellectual exercise. We are very good at pushing people to their running edge," said Ed Pecukonis, associate professor and director of the Center for Maternal and Child Health Social Work Training at the University of Maryland. "The projects become the vehicle which the leadership is taught. Our goal is to train the next generation of maternal and child health social work leaders for the country."

Each year three professionals are selected for the academy, which runs from January to December. They meet in January at the University of Maryland and later in July at UGA. Participants also meet weekly with academy facilitators Pecukonis and the director of the academy, UGA Associate Professor Donna Leigh Bliss, via video conferencing to discuss readings, projects and make presentations.

Applicants come from all over the southeast and mid-Atlantic and must have at least two years post-MSW practice experience.

The rigorous curriculum requires participants to develop a management project to address a specific need of their agency as well as design a continuing education project with other participants that addresses an emerging area in maternal and child health. They also blog about their leadership experiences on a weekly basis and they are paired up with a mentor.

Mary Snyder-Vogel, director of social work at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore and Bliss serve as mentors for participants.

"As I developed my leadership skills, there wasn't a program like this that helped you live leadership," Snyder-Vogel said. "The experience Ed and Donna have created really transforms individuals into leaders. [The participants] are practicing it and experiencing it."

Participants continue to work full-time jobs while completing the academy.

"On a week to week basis it is a little bit of a juggling act," said Meghan Mayforth, a participant who works as a senior clinical social worker at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. "But, I've found it to be very energizing. When you are in your work space, you have all these great ideas about things you want to change but don't necessarily have the tools or the motivation to do anything about it. The Leadership Academy has been instrumental in giving me those two things," she said.

"It's really shifted a lot of my thinking in the work setting in terms of taking on tasks where I can be most effective," said Nattasha Charania, another participant. Charania is a medical social worker at Emory University Hospital. "It has shifted my thinking about where I can be most effective, where I can help the department most, what's the most rewarding for me in working with colleagues, but also interdepartmentally."

Bliss works closely with each participant's supervisor to help ensure the development of each individual's skill set to advance their career path.

"My hope is that people see themselves differently as a result of their participation in the Academy and they carry themselves differently in their relationships in their professional life," Bliss said. "Leadership development is not something that is based on reading books and just learning stuff, but you have to grow as a person—you have to change how you see yourself and relate with other people. The only way to do that is to be thrust into experiences that stretch you out of your comfort zone."

The Maternal and Child Health Post-Graduate Leadership Academy is funded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau.