In 2021, after an initial pilot test, the Ford School became the first policy school to offer all Master of Public Policy students the opportunity to work with a certified executive leadership coach during their required summer internship. In October, the coaching program won third prize in the Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge at the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration conference in Chicago. The recognition comes with a $2,000 prize for the Ford School’s Leadership Initiative.
Jennifer Niggemeier, associate director of the school’s Leadership Initiative, represented the Ford School as a finalist in the annual pitch competition. Niggemeier, herself trained in leadership coaching, helped to design the program. “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.
The Ford School has cultivated a bench of nearly 20 International Coaching Federation-certified coaches with experience in the public sector. The vision for the program, Niggemeier notes, is to encourage students to intentionally focus on their leadership development with their coaches “in real time,” growing their emotional intelligence and leadership presence.
“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.
“We’ve seen the difference that coaching makes to our students in their confidence and their leadership insights,” said Ford School interim dean Celeste Watkins-Hayes. “We’re so proud that Jennifer and the coaching program have been recognized for such tremendous innovation.”
The Ford School’s summer coaching program was launched with support from the Meijer Foundation and the Towsley Foundation. The Leadership Initiative is led by Morela Hernandez, the Ligia Ramirez de Reynolds Collegiate Professor of Public Policy.
In fall 2022, 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.
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