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:

  • University Organization
  • Leadership and Academic Theory
  • University Operations
  • Management
  • External Relations
  • Professional Development

The sessions will be supplemented by two extracurricular activities:

  1.  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.
  2.  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.
  3. Group project related to current system-wide or system-level initiatives or events.


  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 (extended to November 13, 2020).
  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.

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 are due by Friday, November 13, 2020.  

Participation 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 via a letter no later than January 16, 2021. 


Conference Dates

Dates for the 2021 cohort will be February 17-19, 2021 (Springfield), May 12-14, 2021 (Chicago), September 15-17, 2021 (Urbana) and November 17-19, 2021 (Urbana). All dates and conference formats are subject to change based on COVID circumstances and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. 


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. 

*For the 2021 cohort, the one-time fee from the participant's department is reduced to $500 to reflect current budgetary constraints.

Program Committees

Program Sponsor: Office of the Executive Vice President and Vice President for Academic Affairs - Dr. Barbara Wilson

Program Coordination: System Human Resource Services - Jami Painter, Associate Vice President and Chief HR Officer and Jackie Billhymer, HR Coordinator

Steering Team:

  • Jami Painter, Chair, System Human Resource Services
  • Lisa Caridine, UI Hospital and Health Sciences System
  • Laura Clower, President's Office
  • Kyle Harfst, Office of the Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation
  • Catherine Sanders, 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
  • James Gallaher, Illinois Human Resources, UIUC
  • Michael Ginsburg, Human Resources, UIC
  • Melissa Mlynski, Human Resources, UIS
  • Sarah Zehr, Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs

2021 Program Participants

To view participant bios, click here.


  • Margaret Browne Huntt, Assistant Director for Strategic Research Initiatives and Chief Diversity Officer, Cancer Center at Illinois
  • Kara Johnson, Associate Director for Administration, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science & Technology
  • Julia Nucci Kelly, Assistant Director for Marketing and Communications, Krannert Art Museum
  • Moises Orozco Villicaña, Director of Enrollment Management, School of Information Sciences
  • James Quisenberry, Director, Student Affairs Technology
  • Brian Rogers, Senior Associate Director of Proposals, Sponsored Programs Administration
  • Jen-chien Yu, Director of Library Assessment, Main Library Administration


  • Loretta Foote Casey, Associate Dean for Administration, College of Education
  • Lunaire Ford, Assistant Dean for Diversity and Recruitment, Office of Graduate Recruitment and Diversity
  • Viviana Kabbabe-Thompson, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, College of Applied Health Sciences
  • Joseph Kearney, Assistant Dean for Strategic Initiatives, John Marshall Law School
  • Dale Rush, Associate Dean for Administrative Affairs, College of Pharmacy
  • Charese Smith, Assistant Director, Urban Health Program, College of Nursing
  • Uma Sriram, Director of Business & Finance, College of Medicine, Rockford
  • Nancy Tartt, Associate Director of Operations, Office of Community Engagement & Neighborhood Health Partnerships, Office of the Vice Chancellor of Health Affairs


  • Melisa Hatch, Classification & Compensation Manager, UIS Human Resources
  • Rhyann Morris, Assistant to the Dean, College of Education & Human Services

System Offices

  • John Laroe, Assistant Controller, University Accounting Services, University Accounting & Financial Reporting
  • Renee Nagy, Associate Director, Office of Planning & Budgeting
  • Ben Taylor, Assistant Director for Economic Development & Innovation, Office of the Vice President for Economic Development & Innovation

2019-20 Program Participants

To view participant bios, click here.


  • Sarah Allison, Associate Director, Division of Animal Resources
  • Kelly Foster, Guest Services Manager, Illini Union
  • John Holton, Assistant Collections Manager, Spurlock Museum
  • Viveka Kudaligama, Assistant Director of Graduate Programs, Illinois Computer Science, Grainger College of Engineering
  • Jong Lee, Deputy Associate Director, National Center for Supercomputing Applications
  • Julia Makela, Associate Director for Assessment and Research, The Career Center
  • Kim Otchere, Director of Inclusion and Talent Development, University Housing
  • Doug Wolters, Senior Director of Operations, College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences


  • Clare Delaney, Director of Student Services, Office of Academic Programs, College of Nursing
  • Michael Diaz, Executive Associate Director and Title IX Coordinator, Office for Access and Equity
  • Sharon Feldman, Associate Director of Global Health Policy Research Initiatives, UIC Institute for Health Research and Policy, Health Policy Center
  • Jacquelyn Jancius, Director for the Conflict of Interest Office, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research
  • Brian Roessler, Executive Assistant Dean for Student Academic Affairs, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • Monica Tith, Associate Dean for Administration, College of Engineering
  • Annette Wright, Associate Dean of Students, Office of the Dean of Students


  • Katherine Battee-Freeman, Director, Career Development Center
  • Emily Boles, Computer-Assisted Instruction Specialist, Center for Online Learning, Research and Service

System Offices

  • Laura Barnett, Senior Associate Director of Training & Performance, University Payroll and Benefits
  • Cynthia Cobb, Director of Portfolio and Process Management Office, Administrative Information Technology Services
  • Dan Szajna, Director, System Purchasing and Support Services

2018-19 Program Participants

To view participant bios, click here.



Anita Balgopal, Director, Office for the Protection of Research Subjects

Brian Brauer, Associate Director for Infrastructure and Special Projects, Fire Service Institute

Kim Collins, Interim Director & Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Disability Resources & Educational Services

Brian Farber, Executive Assistant to the Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs/Director of Auxiliaries, Office of the Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs

Jeffrey Stein, Interim Executive Director, Prairie Research Institute

David Wilcoxen, Associate Director of Safety & Compliance, Facilities & Services



Stephanie Estrada, Senior Associate Director, Office of Institutional Research

Agnes Herget, Assistant Dean, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Aginah Muhammad, Executive Director, Council on Teacher Education

Colleen Piersen, Assistant Head for Administration and Research Assistant Professor of Pharmacognosy, Department of Medicinal Chemistry & Pharmacognosy

Benjamin Ramirez, Director of the Center for Structural Biology and Research Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Genetics

David Taeyaerts, Associate Vice Chancellor of Learning Environments and Campus Architect, Campus Learning Environments

Michael Wesbecher, Director of Communications & Events, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs



Michele Gribbins, Associate Director, Center for Online Learning, Research & Service

James Koeppe, Director of Campus Recreation, UIS Campus Recreation

Lisa Whelpley, Associate Vice Chancellor for Development, Office of Advancement


System Offices

Jenny Ehrnthaller, Director, Strategic Budget and Finance, Administrative Information Technology Services

Brenda Hixson, Director for Business Solutions & Support, Office of Business & Financial Services

Joe Shroyer, Associate Director of Customer Service and Cashier Operations, Office of Business & Financial Services

Kathy Sullivan, Assistant Director, Institute of Government & Public Affairs