University of Illinois System

Professional Staff Leadership Academy

The University of Illinois System’s Professional Staff Leadership Academy (PSLA, formerly known as the Academic Professional Leadership Program) utilizes superior leadership principles and applications to develop key professionals. Through relationships built across the University of Illinois System, the program uses the knowledge of University staff, executives, academic theory and practical applications to foster an environment where leaders can emerge.

The program accommodates 20 participants in any given twelve-month class. Candidates for the program must meet eligibility requirements and possess the desire and passion to contribute to the success of the University of Illinois System. They must demonstrate values that are consistent with those of the system and have the characteristics and competencies that are exemplary of superior leadership.


Foster and sustain a culture of exceptional, dynamic, and transformational leadership at all levels throughout the University of Illinois System.


The goals of the Professional Staff Leadership Academy focus on the individual development of University of Illinois professionals and the transmission of inter-institutional knowledge. The program goals are:

  • Create opportunities for the development of emerging leaders.
  • Teach and provide opportunities to develop and implement best practices associated with leadership roles and responsibilities.
  • Create a cross-functional system-wide network of leaders that are capable of successfully executing strategic plans and accomplishing strategic goals.
  • Develop leaders' change capability in order to react quickly to our rapidly changing economic and social environment.
  • Develop leaders' emotional intelligence to advance leadership impact.


The curriculum consists of six integrated components.  Topics included in each of the components include:

The sessions will be supplemented by three additional activities:

  1. Participants will complete two development assessments and receive a minimum of two coaching sessions by a certified facilitator. 
  2. A reading program will offer insights into current literature related to the program topics. Reviews of the literature will be integrated throughout the twelve-month curriculum.
  3.  A mentoring program will be offered to academy members. Mentoring can offer insights into the University operation, its formal and informal culture. Mentors can also be good sounding boards to test ideas, discuss issues and career goals. The mentoring program will be established and supported by the academy, but mentor meetings will occur outside of the formal conference sessions.


  1. Permanent, 12 month, non-visiting Academic Professional or professional civil service employees with at least an 80% time appointment.
  2. Applicants should have a minimum of three (3) cumulative years of service as an academic professional or civil service employee at the University. Eligible applicants should have completed the three year requirement by the application deadline (October 30, 2023).
  3. Minimum of two or more years in a management role. Example include, but are not limited to supervising staff, managing large projects and/or programs that require responsibility for deliverables and/or project budget.
  4. Support of supervisor and/or department head.
  5. Not currently a member of another University-sponsored leadership program or past UAFP (University Administrative Fellows Program) participant.
  6. Applicants do not need to be nominated to apply.
  7. Selected participants are expected to attend all conference dates.

Application Process

Eligible employees must complete the online application and provide the following:

  • current resume
  • letter of interest (500 words or less) indicating:
    • their interest and expectations for the program
    • career goals
    • a description of a professional experience in which the candidate took a leadership role, including examples of how the candidate was or was not effective, as well as what the candidate learned from the experience
  • letter of support and commitment from his/her immediate supervisor and/or department head.

Applications for the 2024 cohort are now closed. The application period for the 2025 cohort will open in October 2024.   

Cohort Selection

The Professional Staff Leadership Academy (PSLA) steering team selects 20 participants and 3 alternates from all eligible submissions and makes a recommendation to the Program Sponsor for final class participation. Selected candidates will be notified in mid-December.  

Conference Dates

Conferences will be held March 27-29, 2024 (Springfield), June 5-7, 2024 (System - Urbana), September 11-13, 2024 (Chicago) and November 20-22, 2024 (Urbana). All dates and conference formats are subject to change based on COVID circumstances and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Selected participants are expected to attend all conference dates.

Program Cost

The participant's department will pay a one-time $1,000 fee to participate in the program. The System Office will cover the remaining costs of the program. 

Program Committees

Program Sponsors: Nick Jones, Office of the Executive Vice President and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Jami Painter, Senior Associate Vice President and Chief HR Officer for System Human Resource Services

Program Coordination Staff: Jackie Billhymer, Associate Director, Organizational Effectiveness, Joy Brownridge, Training & Development Specialist and Elizabeth Hatcher, Talent Management Partner

Steering Team:

  • Jami Painter, Chair, System Human Resource Services
  • April Read, UI Health
  • Laura Clower, President's Office
  • Kyle Harfst, Office of the Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation
  • Tremayne Price, Chancellor's Office, UIC
  • Joan Sestak, Chancellor's Office, UIS
  • Kandace Turner, Chancellor's Office, UIUC

Curriculum Advisory Committee:

  • Jami Painter, ​Chair​, System Human Resource Services
  • Cheri Canfield, Human Resources, UIC
  • Bria Marcelo, Illinois Human Resources, UIUC
  • Melissa Mlynski, Human Resources, UIS
  • Sarah Gantz, Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs

Additionally, each year one representative from each of the universities and system office are selected by their class to serve on the following year's Curriculum Advisory Committee. Representatives for 2024 are:

  • Elizabeth Chominski, GIES College of Business, UIUC
  • Odell Richmond, Jr., Human Resources, UIC
  • Alice Seaton, University Bursar, System Offices
  • Tarah Sweeting-Trotter, Center for Academic Success and Advising, UIS

2024 Program Participants

To view participant bios, click here.


  • Greg Anderson, College of Fine & Applied Arts
  • Robbie Bauer, Utility & Energy Services
  • Angela Coy, Prairie Research Institute
  • Jonathan Elugbadebo, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
  • Shawna Graddy, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science & Technology
  • Amanda Lombardo, College of Agricultural, Consumer & Environmental Sciences
  • Wyatt Martin, School of Labor & Employment Relations
  • Anna Simon, Office of the Chancellor
  • Candice Solomon-Strutz, College of Applied Health Sciences


  • Faizan Abid, Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs
  • Charity Ball, Center for Clinical & Translational Sciences
  • Nicolas Bernal, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Innovation Extended Campus 
  • Rodney Chambers, University Library
  • Hélène Gussin, Department of Pediatrics
  • Nicholas Kane, College of Medicine
  • Tanya Merritt, UI Health Ambulatory Services
  • Rachel Morrow, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Pharmacy
  • Jerisha Mack, Office of Community Engagement & Neighborhood Health Partnerships


  • Craig McFarland, School of Politics & International Affairs
  • Lea Smith, Office of Records & Registration
  • Aaron Stewart, Facilities & Services

System Offices

  • Brad Edwards, Office of Technology Management
  • Cassandra Staudacher, System Human Resource Services
  • Bridget To, University Accounting & Financial Reporting

PSLA Alumni

Class of 2023

To view participant bios, click here.


  • Dr. Ellen Wang Althaus, IDEA Institute, Engineering Administration
  • Dr. Cristina Álvarez-Mingote, Beckman Institute
  • Elizabeth Chominski, GIES College of Business
  • Meg Dickinson, Beckman Institute 
  • Brian Jacobson, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Integrated Bioprocessing Research Lab (IBRL)
  • Linda K. Lee Drozt, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation
  • Amie Loyd, Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL)
  • Dr. Subha Srinivasan, Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology


  • Jeanette Agustin, College of Medicine, Dermatology
  • Dr. Natalie Bennett, Women's Leadership and Resource Center
  • Benjamin Dohner, UI Hospital, Dept of Information Services
  • Edward Drogos, College of Nursing, Population Health Nursing Science
  • Sharon Hayes, College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, Public Administration
  • Odell M. Richmond, Jr., UIC Human Resources
  • Justin Wier, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Student Academic Affairs


  • Dr. Tarah Sweeting-Trotter, Center for Academic Success and Advising

System Offices

  • Marissa Brooke Brewer, Office of External Relations and Communications
  • Dale J. Morrison, Esq., Procurement Diversity
  • Alice Seaton, University Bursar
Class of 2022

To view participant bios, click here.


  • Aaron Darnall, Department of Computer Science
  • Rian K. Jones, Division of Intercollegiate Athletics
  • Chris Lehmann, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation
  • Don Marrow, School of Chemical Sciences
  • Suzana Palaska, Office of International Programs, College of ACES
  • Gillian Snyder, Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute
  • Kamil Tamimie, Sponsored Programs Administration


  • Jennifer Bordy, University Library
  • Ebony Brooks, UIC Division of Specialized Care for Children
  • Elizabeth Hawes, Center for Clinical and Translational Science
  • Gerardo Jimenez, Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs and Academic Programs
  • Antoniah Lewis-Reese, School of Public Health
  • Santhi Nannapeneni, Department of Computer Science
  • Aaron Rosenthal, Purchasing and Contract Management


  • Bryan Rives, Performing Arts Services
  • Justin J. Rose, Student Affairs

System Offices

  • Margaret Chambers, Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois
  • Melissa Haas, Office of External Relations and Communications
  • Erin E. Herrick, University Bursar
  • Svetlana Sowers, Office of Technology Management
Class of 2021

To view participant bios, click here.


  • Margaret Browne Huntt, Cancer Center at Illinois
  • Kara Johnson, Carle Illinois College of Medicine
  • Julia Nucci Kelly, Krannert Art Museum
  • James Quisenberry, Student Affairs Technology
  • Brian Rogers, Office of the Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation
  • Jen-chien Yu, Main Library Administration


  • Loretta Foote Casey, College of Education
  • Lunaire Ford, Office of Graduate Recruitment and Diversity
  • Viviana Kabbabe-Thompson, College of Applied Health Sciences
  • Joseph Kearney, Office of the Chancellor
  • Moises Orozco Villicaña, Academic and Enrollment Services
  • Dale Rush, College of Pharmacy
  • Charese Smith, College of Nursing
  • Uma Sriram, College of Medicine, Rockford
  • Nancy Tartt, Office of the Vice Chancellor of Health Affairs


  • Rhyann Morris, Office of Admissions

System Offices

  • John Laroe, University Accounting and Financial Reporting
  • Renee Nagy, Office of Planning and Budgeting
  • Ben Taylor, Office of the Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation
Class of 2020

To view participant bios, click here.


  • Sarah Allison, Division of Animal Resources
  • John Holton, Spurlock Museum
  • Viveka Kudaligama, Grainger College of Engineering
  • Jong Lee, National Center for Supercomputing Applications
  • Julia Makela, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • Kim Otchere, University Housing
  • Doug Wolters, College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences


  • Clare Delaney, College of Nursing
  • Jacquelyn Jancius, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research
  • Brian Roessler, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • Monica Tith, College of Engineering
  • Annette Wright, Office of the Dean of Students


  • Katherine Battee-Freeman, Career Development Center
  • Emily Boles, Center for Online Learning, Research and Service

System Offices

  • Laura Barnett, University Payroll and Benefits
  • Cynthia Cobb, Administrative Information Technology Services
  • Kelly Foster, Office of Treasury Operations
  • Dan Szajna, System Purchasing and Support Services
Class of 2019

To view participant bios, click here.


  • Anita Balgopal, Office for the Protection of Research Subjects
  • Brian Brauer, Division of Public Safety
  • Kim Collins, Disability Resources & Educational Services
  • Brian Farber, Illinois Human Resources
  • Jeffrey Stein, University of Illinois System
  • David Wilcoxen, Facilities & Services


  • Stephanie Estrada, Office of Institutional Research
  • Agnes Herget, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
  • Aginah Muhammad, Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs and Academic Programs
  • Colleen Piersen, Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy
  • Benjamin Ramirez, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
  • David Taeyaerts, Campus Learning Environments
  • Michael Wesbecher, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs


  • Michele Gribbins, Center for Online Learning, Research and Service
  • James Koeppe, UIS Campus Recreation
  • Lisa Whelpley, Office of Advancement

System Offices

  • Jenny Ehrnthaller, Strategic Budget and Finance, Administrative Information Technology Services
  • Brenda Hixson, Strategic Program Planning
  • Joe Shroyer, University Bursar
  • Kathy Sullivan, Institute of Government and Public Affairs


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Alumni Testimonials

I am grateful to have been part of the inaugural class of this program! Being able to hear from leaders across the three universities within the University of Illinois System and spending a day at the Capitol in Springfield were great ways to understand the larger context for our individual roles and contributions to the overall mission. The many opportunities of the program and the network and friendships that have developed have been a great motivator for me to become more involved across campus and made me a better advocate for the University of Illinois.

-Agnes Herget, Class of 2019


PSLA has allowed me to expand my professional network across the system to people who I would not have otherwise interacted with within my current position. I have learned more about my leadership style and made adaptations to better interact with a wide range of people and multiple generations of personnel. I especially appreciate learning about the unique styles of leaders across the system and getting to experience some of the top offerings/services/programs at each campus. Also, learning about governance has been beneficial as I work on my professional development and establish additional career goals.

-Katherine Battee-Freeman, Class of 2020


PSLA has given me so much more than I anticipated! I have gained perspective on the university system beyond the lens of my work and I’m growing a network across divisions that lead for ease and fluidity in being able to better help students. I was grateful for the reflective time away from the daily office activities to see how I might be able to provide impact on this space.

-Viviana Kabbabe-Thompson, Class of 2021


Yes, PSLA delivered everything they said they would, but what we did not expect to gain was a new family/community who we can not only rely on professionally, but one that allows us to have fun, boost moods/morale when life is challenging, but equally as important, a family/community that gives us a chance to cherish the little things about us as people/including each of our unique leadership paths. We are grateful for all things big and small that the program has done for us—and we have no doubt it will be there for us when we need it. PSLA, thank you for providing an opportunity for us to be there for each other!

-PSLA Eagles, Class of 2022


PSLA is an incredible professional development program, unmatched by any other I’ve participated in during my professional career. The planners and curriculum committee think of every possible detail, and work hard to make the most of every moment the academy is in session. Some of the most notable leaders within the University of Illinois System and its three universities give talks, and they share information about their own jobs and their leadership journeys. We toured amazing spaces and learned about what makes each of our system’s four entities unique and prestigious. I found the camaraderie within my cohort, as well as the networking across classes, to be the program’s most valuable component. When I’m facing a challenge in my job or with my career, I know I have an incredible group of peers who are ready to help. I’m so grateful I had the chance to participate.

-Meg Dickinson, Class of 2023