New spirit enhances traditional focus of graduate leadership program

The office is still at Townsend 9, but there is a new name, some new faces and a new spirit in the graduate leadership program at Fresno Pacific University.

The degree is now called the master of arts in leadership and organizational studies. (The title had been master of arts in administrative leadership, commonly known as the MAAL program.) “The new name more accurately reflects the curriculum and nature of the program,” said Director Peggy Avakian.

Servant leadership is still the focus. The vision statement says, in part, “the program reflects Christ’s leadership through the creation of transformational leaders who positively impact the lives of individuals and the work of organizations.”

Changes include a strengthened commitment to teaching by example. Over the past year, for instance, Avakian asked students what kinds of classes would help them achieve their goals. From those conversations came five concentrations: management and peacemaking, human resources and organization development, financial management, community development and leadership in multicultural settings.

Consulting students gave those most affected by restructuring input into the improvement. “We reflected on our goals as well as those of the students and made changes that responded to their feedback,” Avakian said. Students may also continue to take a variety of approved individual classes instead of a concentration, or may work with faculty to create an area of emphasis of their own.

The emphases and relatively high number of electives (12 units out of a total of 40) allow the program to avoid a one-size-fits-all philosophy of education while remaining convenient enough to be completed in as little as 16 months. “This program has flexibility that a lot of similar programs lack,” she said.

Other innovations include the addition of a graduate research course, more help for students who have finished class work complete their thesis project and a tuition rate that coincides with other graduate programs, making the program more economical.

Several new adjunct faculty bring breadth and depth in profit and non-profit leadership, as well as commitment to the goals of the program. “They’re active lifelong learners,” Avakian said. “All have taken extra time to meet students.”

They include John Yoder, FPU associate vice president for academic affairs; Keith Pipes, chief executive office of Fresno Imaging Co.; Roger Anderson, former president of Pearson Realty; Doyle Daniels, CPA; and university faculty Peng Wen and Duane Ruth-Heffelbower. “We have a nice blend of academic folks and we also have this other expertise in the community,” Avakian said.

That blend allows all the leaders to use their experiences and show students their approach. “As a leader, you can only take people as far as you’ve gone yourself,” Avakian said.

A member of the faculty since 1996, Avakian brings 20 years of experience to the graduate school. Her organization development work, in California and across the United States, has focused on a value-centered, systems approach to strategic planning for individuals and organizations in transition. Avakian received her M.S. degree in human and organization development from the University of San Francisco and is licensed to administer individual and organizational assessments and interventions by companies such as Zenger-Miller, Leritz Corporation and Carlson Learning Company.

Active as a community leader, Avakian was appointed to the United States 19thCongressional District Education Advisory Council and has been named one of San Joaquin Valley's “Top 10 Business and Professional Women.” Avakian has presented and published in the field of Internet technology in education and her current research involves individual and community leadership that tends to the soul.

Fresno Pacific University is an accredited Christian university listed as a best value in U.S. News & World Report’s college guide. Located on a 42-acre campus in southeast Fresno, FPU has an enrollment of 1,900 students—half in graduate and half in undergraduate programs.  The university also enrolls 12,000 students annually in its professional development studies programs offered locally and throughout the world.