Defying Disciplinarity with Lois Harder

This past summer, Lois Harder dove into her newest role at the U of A: principal of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College (PLLC). Formerly…

Image for Post

This past summer, Lois Harder dove into her newest role at the U of A: principal of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College (PLLC). Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science, Lois sought out the role with the PLLC because of her passion for “building things.” She recognized that the current undergraduate Certificate in Interdisciplinary Leadership Studies and the Teaching Fellowship for graduate and professional students had the potential to reach even more students, as well as other groups on campus.

Now a few months into her role, I sat down with Lois to see how things are going and where she’s hoping to take them moving ahead.

First things first, what led you to the PLLC?

I love to build things — and while the PLLC is this wonderful undergraduate program, there’s so much more that we can do to build that out to make it more accessible to undergraduate students, grad students, staff and faculty, and the community. So that opportunity was pretty hard to resist.

It’s also an incredible privilege and a pleasure to work with young people who are so committed to making the world a better place and who are energized by the future — which seems especially poignant at a point when the future can look rather grim in light of our global context. It’s felt like an act of hope to be working with them.

Who inspires your idea of leadership?

I don’t know that I have a person necessarily in mind, but the idea of being compassionate, empathetic, and authentic, and certainly I know people who embody those characteristics and I admire them very much. You know, they’re not always the bright shining international stars of the world, like the great Nelson Mandela — who was amazing — but they’re often people that do really great work in the background and they’re humble people, but without them, things wouldn’t be nearly as good as they are.

The appreciation of the world’s complex problems has to come from an interdisciplinary perspective, meaning we need everybody’s minds on these issues. Everybody can be a leader.

What does your average day look like?

Every day is different. I have interactions with people from all across the university and the community with donors, with students, so it’s very fun to connect with people. I enjoy that a lot and hearing other people’s perspectives, how they understand leadership, what they would like to learn about leadership and what we may be able to do to support them.

So what does a day look like? It looks like talking with oodles of people. I mean not everybody likes a day full of meetings, but these meetings are actually fun because people are interested and excited.

Any highlights from the first few months?

The highlight experience!? The Mentorship Morning with Chris [Koch]; seeing our mentors, students, and our staff come out super early on a cold morning to be inspired by a person who has faced some very serious obstacles but has this incredible message of hope and joy, about making the world a better place. That was really great.

And what is on the horizon for, say, your first year as the principal of PLLC?

In time for next Fall we will launch some workshops for graduate students and hopefully postdoctoral fellows, and are hoping to modify the [Lougheed College Lectures series] in a way that will allow for more extensive conversations about leadership among community members and audiences. I’m also working with the Research at the Intersections of Gender signature area to deliver a campus series on leadership in diversity.

There are also a number of calendar changes that have made the program more accessible. Student feedback called for greater flexibility in the certificate program, a change that would also enhance the accessibility of the program to more students. These changes have included making each class, previously a year-long, semester-based to accommodate students’ schedules. Another change has allowed us to make sure that all of our courses can be delinked from the Certificate. Doing this means that more students can sign-up for our leadership courses, even if they are unable to fit the full certificate into their degree. One of the other big changes will allow second-year students to participate in the courses and certificate, so they no longer have to wait until their third year to get involved.

Best part of the experience so far?

I’ve been very gratified to see the support for the path we’re blazing with the college and I’m super energized about what lies on the horizon for us.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Shelby MacLeod — Communication Coordinator, Peter Lougheed Leadership College

Image for Post

Shelby MacLeod lives vicariously through UAlberta students as she shares the stories of Peter Lougheed Leadership College scholars. While she is always up for a challenge — like walking the long stairwell at University Station every morning — her job bragging about PLLC scholars is pretty straightforward!