Catherine Keske

Catherine Keske
Associate Professor of Management of Complex Systems at the UC Merced School of Engineering

How do you define faculty leadership?
I believe that faculty leaders empower others to grow. Classrooms are the most obvious environments where faculty lead and inspire, but I find that most situations and conversations provide opportunities for faculty to lead, and to learn from others in the process. As faculty we’re fortunate to experience diverse and sometimes challenging situations. Taking a leadership role means that we’re able to translate our experiences to guide others on their journeys, both within and outside the academic environment. In other words, a true leader helps others become the best that they can be. 

Can you share an example of when you've been able to influence positive change as an academic leader?
I just returned from a research summit in Canada’s Yukon Territory.  One of my former students, an Inuk from Nain, Nunatsiavut described the value of being a research assistant in our waste management research project in circumpolar Canada. (Nunatsiatuvt is the autonomous Inuit government that transcends northern Labrador, in Canada’s most eastern province of Newfoundland and Labrador).  He expressed that our project empowered him to grow as a scholar and as a member of an Indigenous community, but also as an Indigenous scholar.  He shared that as an Indigenous scholar, he is simultaneously a researcher and the subject.  He envisions that as he gains more experience and education he will be able to lead his community in defining their research questions, and in conducting community-based research using Indigenous perspectives and experiences. 

I, like everyone in the room, was blown away by his reflection! I was proud of his growth as a scholar and that was able to play a role in his journey.  I foresee that he will rise to the occasion, and when he does, it will be really cool to know that I had a hand in it. 

How could the University benefit from preparing more faculty for future leadership positions?
Leadership training can help build our skills to improve human interactions, and to remind us that there is more to being a faculty member than mastering academic material. Leadership training can prevent us from becoming myopic. 

Tell us about your experience with leadership development programs, or if you have not participated in any, what you would hope to gain from doing so.
I’m new to UC, so I haven’t been involved with a UC leadership program yet. However, I have engaged in leadership training at other times in my career. I have particularly appreciated exercises that provided me with feedback on how others perceive me. For example, I’ve been able to soften some things like my loud speaking voice, while deepening other skills like active listening. 

How does strong leadership from Faculty impact the University of California?
Strong faculty leadership sets the tone for the rest of the University community. The strong faculty leadership at UC motivated me to relocate my research program to join the momentum.  UC-Merced is the newest of the UC campuses; the founding faculty and those who joined early on exhibited amazing leadership. They have been quintessential role models for expanding the UC system.

What would you say to Faculty hard pressed to find time to participate in leadership workshops or other programming?
Workshops provide opportunities to receive formal instruction on topics that we don’t often reflect upon. I think that I’ve always come away with a solid, useful nugget of knowledge from attending workshops over the years. Try to make it a priority to attend a leadership workshop (even if it’s only a couple of hours) at least once every year or two. However, if you really don’t have the time, it’s still important to practice your leadership skills every single day. Each day presents the opportunity to empower others.