The Ford School and Jennifer Niggemeier, associate director of the school’s Leadership Initiative, were awarded third prize in the Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge at the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) conference in Chicago. The recognition comes with a $2,000 prize for the Ford School’s Leadership Initiative.
The Voinovich Challenge is an annual ‘pitch competition’ co-sponsored by NASPAA and Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service in honor of the late Sen. George V. Voinovich. The Challenge highlights new strategies for enhancing student education, addressing unmet needs, advancing knowledge, and/or improving programmatic efficiency or effectiveness.
Niggemeier and three other finalists were asked to pitch their innovative approaches to applied learning and/or executive education to a panel of judges. They were scored based on their project pitch’s value proposition, analysis, creativity, sustainability, reach, presentation quality, and ability to answer the judges’ questions. The top prize was awarded to Sadia Sindhu from the Center for Effective Government at the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy.
After an initial pilot, the Ford School made the bold move in 2021 to offer all Master of Public Policy (MPP) students the opportunity to work with a certified executive leadership coach during their required summer internship. Niggemeier, herself trained in leadership coaching, helped to design the program.
“On behalf of the Ford School, I was honored to share our experiences with developing a leadership coaching program with other policy schools,” Niggemeier said of participating in the pitch competition.
“After their first year of rigorous coursework, our graduate students go off to exciting policy internships. Having access to a coach helps them navigate culture and politics, boundary setting, and imposter syndrome–common tensions in the workplace,” said Niggemeier. “Alongside our curriculum, coaching helps our students build skills to successfully interact in complex policy environments.”
“The Ford School is, to the best of our knowledge, the only policy school that offers skilled leadership coaching to every enrolled MPP student,” said Ford School interim dean Celeste Watkins-Hayes. “We’ve seen the difference that coaching makes to our students in their confidence and their leadership insights. We’re so proud that Jennifer and the coaching program have been recognized for such tremendous innovation."
Niggemeier said that the vision for this program is to encourage students to intentionally focus on their leadership development “in real time” to help develop their emotional intelligence and leadership presence in a real-world policy setting. The Ford School has cultivated a bench of nearly 20 International Coaching Federation certified coaches who have experience in the public sector.
“Our model gives students the opportunity to access professional coaching early on in their career–a growth activity that is typically reserved for senior leaders and executives,” she said.
Coaches and students are matched based on the students’ preferences around identities, interests, geography, and/or coaching goals. Through individual and group sessions, coaches assist students in approaching workplace challenges with a growth mindset, curiosity and empathy, and with awareness to help them become their best selves.
The Ford School’s summer coaching program was launched with support from the Meijer Foundation and the Towsley Foundation.
“It was an incredibly difficult choice this year: all of the programs are so amazing,” said Kate Leeman, the Voinovich School Director of Strategic Initiatives.”It's great to see all of the opportunities that traditional and executive students are receiving through these leadership programs.”
“We are proud to help lead the way in transforming the ways in which our future public servants are trained, supported, and inspired to contribute to the public good,” noted Morela Hernandez, faculty director of the Leadership Initiative. “Events such as the Voinovich Challenge represent essential ways of sharing information, best practices, and continuing to improve and innovate. Ultimately, we hope these collective efforts will more formally establish a new best in class standard of effective and responsible leadership in the public sector.”
The other 2022 Voinovich Challenge finalists were Judith Kelley, The Duke Sanford Citizen Experience Lab, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, and Sara M. Johnson, The Holistic Leadership with Purpose and Creativity for a Complex World course, O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University.
About the Leadership Initiative
The Ford School defines leadership as the behavioral process of having a positive impact on individuals, organizations, and communities. The Leadership Initiative integrates assessments, workshops, coaching, and more, at curricular and co-curricular levels to allow students to choose experiences that are right for them. The Leadership Initiative is led by Morela Hernandez, the Ligia Ramirez de Reynolds Collegiate Professor of Public Policy. In fall 2022, Jennifer Niggemeier transitioned full-time into her role as associate director for the Leadership Initiative. She previously led graduate career services and alumni relations at the Ford School for 24 years and built the school into a national leader for strategic, supportive, and innovative career service delivery.
About the Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge
The Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge is an annual ‘pitch competition’ co-sponsored by NASPAA and Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service in honor of the late Sen. George V. Voinovich. The annual event highlights new strategies for enhancing student education, addressing unmet needs, advancing knowledge, and/or improving programmatic efficiency or effectiveness.