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:

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

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 31, 2022).
  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 2023 cohort will be accepted starting Monday, October 3.  

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 by 5:00 PM, December 16, 2022. 

Conference Dates

Conferences will be held March 8-10, 2023 (Springfield), June 7-9, 2023 (System - Urbana), September 27-29, 2023 (Chicago) and November 1-3, 2023 (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: Dr. Avijit Ghosh, 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, Assistant Director, Organizational Effectiveness, Joy Brownridge, Training & Development Specialist and Zuri White, Training & Development Specialist

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
  • Joseph Kearney, 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
  • Shari Mickey-Boggs, Illinois Human Resources, UIUC
  • Michael Ginsburg, Human Resources, UIC
  • Melissa Mlynski, Human Resources, UIS
  • Sarah Zehr, Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs


2023 Program Participants

To view participant bios, click here.


  • Dr. Ellen Wang Althaus, IDEA Institute, Engineering Administration
  • Dr. Cristina Álvarez-Mingote, Center for Social and Behavioral Science
  • 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


  • Rebekah Grosboll, Public Affairs and Administration
  • 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

PSLA Alumni

Class of 2022

To view participant bios, click here.


  • Aaron Darnall, Assistant Head for Administration, Department of Computer Science
  • Rian K. Jones, Assistant Director of Facilities Operations, Division of Intercollegiate Athletics
  • Chris Lehmann, Research Integrity Officer, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation
  • Don Marrow, Associate Director of Budget and Resource Planning, School of Chemical Sciences
  • Suzana Palaska, Associate Director, Office of International Programs, College of ACES
  • Gillian Snyder, Senior Director for Research and Core Development, Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute
  • Kamil Tamimie, Assistant Director for Training, Outreach and Data Management, Sponsored Programs Administration


  • Jennifer Bordy, Director of Library Human Resources, University Library
  • Ebony Brooks, Assistant Director of Operations, Accounting and Finance, UIC Division of Specialized Care for Children
  • Elizabeth Hawes, Director of Administrative Operations, Center for Clinical and Translational Science
  • Gerardo Jimenez, Director of Operations, Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs and Academic Programs
  • Antoniah Lewis-Reese, Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives, School of Public Health
  • Santhi Nannapeneni, Director of Student Affairs, Department of Computer Science
  • Aaron Rosenthal, Senior Associate Director of Contract Management, Purchasing and Contract Management


  • Bryan Rives, Director, Performing Arts Services
  • Justin J. Rose, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Student Affairs

System Offices

  • Margaret Chambers, Director of Membership and Communications, Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois
  • Melissa Haas, Director of Federal Relations, Office of External Relations and Communications
  • Erin E. Herrick, Director of Accounts Receivable Operations, Billing Services, Student Loans and Collections, University Bursar
  • Svetlana Sowers, Assistant Director for Strategic Initiatives and Senior Technology Manager, Office of Technology Management
Class of 2021

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 Dean for Finance and Administration, Carle Illinois College of Medicine
  • Julia Nucci Kelly, Assistant Director for Marketing and Communications, Krannert Art Museum
  • James Quisenberry, Director, Student Affairs Technology
  • Brian Rogers, Director of Research and Program Development, Office of the Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation
  • 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, Chief of Staff, Office of the Chancellor
  • Moises Orozco Villicaña, Director of Recruitment and Outreach, Academic and Enrollment Services
  • 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 and Finance, College of Medicine, Rockford
  • Nancy Tartt, Associate Director of Operations, Office of Community Engagement and Neighborhood Health Partnerships, Office of the Vice Chancellor of Health Affairs


  • Melisa Hatch, Classification and Compensation Manager, UIS Human Resources
  • Rhyann Morris, Director of Admissions Processing, Office of Admissions

System Offices

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

To view participant bios, click here.


  • Sarah Allison, Associate Director, Division of Animal Resources
  • John Holton, Assistant Collections Manager, Spurlock Museum
  • Viveka Kudaligama, Senior Assistant Director of Graduate Programs, Illinois Computer Science, Grainger College of Engineering
  • Jong Lee, Deputy Associate Director, National Center for Supercomputing Applications
  • Julia Makela, Director of Career Development, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • 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, Director of Training & Performance, University Payroll and Benefits
  • Cynthia Cobb, Director of Portfolio and Process Management Office, Administrative Information Technology Services
  • Kelly Foster, Assistant Director, i-card Programs, Office of Treasury Operations
  • Dan Szajna, Director, System Purchasing and Support Services
Class of 2019

To view participant bios, click here.


  • Anita Balgopal, Director, Office for the Protection of Research Subjects
  • Brian Brauer, Executive Director of Emergency Management, Division of Public Safety
  • Kim Collins, Interim Director & Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Disability Resources & Educational Services
  • Brian Farber, Chief of Staff & Special Projects, Illinois Human Resources
  • Jeffrey Stein, Secretary to the Board of Trustees, University of Illinois System
  • 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, Assistant Vice Provost for Student Success, Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs and Academic Programs
  • Colleen Piersen, Assistant Head for Administration and Research Assistant Professor of Pharmacognosy, Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy
  • Benjamin Ramirez, Director of the Center for Structural Biology and Research Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
  • David Taeyaerts, Associate Vice Chancellor of Learning Environments and Campus Architect, Campus Learning Environments
  • Michael Wesbecher, Director of Communications and Events, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs


  • Michele Gribbins, Director, Center for Online Learning, Research and 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 and Support, Strategic Program Planning
  • Joe Shroyer, Senior Associate Director of Customer Service and Cashier Operations, University Bursar
  • Kathy Sullivan, Senior Assistant Director, 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