Adrienne Stiff-Roberts on a Year of Learning How the University Works

Pratt professor spent year as Presidential Fellow

Adrienne Stiff-Roberts

The fellowship was established by President Vincent Price to further develop faculty for leadership by providing them with the opportunity to interact closely with and receive mentorship from the President and other senior leaders at Duke; to observe leadership in action through direct participation in leadership meetings; to engage them in decision-making processes; and work on a special project of interest to both the fellow and the President’s office.

Regular meetings with Price and other senior leaders across the university were a central component of Stiff-Roberts’ fellowship. These were open-ended agendas where she drove the conversation and had opportunities to raise any issue, she said.

“I met with President Price every other week. Often, we just had conversations about the issues happening on campus and in higher education more broadly. I was able to learn from him how he approached these things and ask lots of questions. It was a wonderful experience.”

“Adrienne is a remarkable scholar and colleague, and I very much enjoyed our work together during her fellowship,” said Price. “Her fellowship spanned a period of significant developments and leadership transitions at Duke, and I appreciated the opportunity to work closely with her and learn from her perspective over the course of the year.”

Meeting with university leaders, Stiff-Roberts said she found many different styles of leadership. “I found this encouraging because it means you can be successful in your own way at Duke and follow your own instincts.”

She also observed general sessions of the Board of Trustees, as well as board committee meetings, helping her gain a better understanding of university governance.

“I now better appreciate how the trustees fulfill their charge to serve as a fiduciary for the university. What I saw was the board members take that responsibility very seriously,” she said.

Although her appointment ended in June, her work as Presidential Fellow isn’t entirely complete. One part of the fellowship is to develop a special university project of particular interest to the participant. 

Stiff-Roberts’ project is planning an interdisciplinary problem-solving retreat focused specifically on master’s degree students across the university. The project came out of her interest in building university community and creating learning opportunities where students can collaborate on large challenges. 

“One challenge for Duke is building community for graduate and professional students, particularly master’s degree students. They are here for a short time and are heavily focused on their studies during that time. It’s difficult to get them incorporated into the larger community.”

Her idea is to have master’s students from across the university come together in a retreat where they would work together on problems that require collaboration.

“The idea is to give the students an opportunity to have more interaction with other students who they ordinarily wouldn’t connect with,” Stiff-Roberts said. “And I wanted the problem to be interdisciplinary, so they will need to bring their expertise in collaboration with students from other fields.”

Planning for the retreat is ongoing, and Stiff-Roberts hopes to hold the event later in the academic year.

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