First Cohort of New Program Links Executive Assistants across UVA and UVA Health

In 1915, the University of Virginia created the Bureau of Extension with then President Alderman describing it as a “great connecting link.” The Bureau of Extension, now known as the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, is still serving as a connecting link today, exemplified through a newly added program that brings together executive assistants from across the UVA Academic Division and Health System. 

The Higher Education Program for Executive Level Assistants (HEPELA) launched in fall 2023, with 25 members in the inaugural cohort. HEPELA is an offering from the SCPS Professional Enrichment Program (PEP) team, which provides education services to prepare individuals and leadership teams throughout all levels of an organization to help drive that organization forward, support retention and facilitate employee advancement. 

“SCPS develops custom programming that meets client needs and encourages growth in their department or organization,” said Alexa Jeffress, Director of Professional Programs and Lecturer. “Using the deep resources of the University, the PEP team provides tailor-made educational services designed specifically for each client organization. Programming may be offered online, in person or with a blend of the two. Some programs may be one week, while others meet once a month for six months – the possibilities are endless.”

HEPELA class 2024
25 members of the inaugural HEPELA cohort participated in 12 sessions on Grounds.

While many PEP programs are available for entities outside of the University, HEPELA’s first cohort was designed specifically for UVA Academic and Health System staff members. There are 12 total sessions held on Grounds, including topics such as strategies for executive assistants, emotional intelligence, self-management and personal care and effective communication and collaboration.

Susan Chisholm, SCPS Degree Program Administrator and HEPELA participant, pointed to Pete Ronayne’s popular lecture, “Influence Without Authority,” as a session that spoke directly to her work.

“Each of us brings a talent or two to the team,” said Chisholm. “We do not need to be a manager to contribute. It is important to know that each of us can step up and be a team member when working on either a project or in our day-to-day work. Giving what we can, even if it means asking for help, is the key to being a leader and contributor within the University community.”

Upon successful completion of the program, cohort members will receive a digital badge and a noncredit course designation on their UVA academic transcript. While sessions for the first cohort just concluded, the program has already proven to be successful if you ask participants.

“What an honor to participate in the first HEPELA cohort through SCPS,” stated Erinn Rene, Executive Assistant to the Dean of Libraries. “The curriculum is engaging, and not only are the presenters dynamic, but they challenged us to stretch our thinking on how best to suit the needs of our departments by understanding differences and ways to lead. I feel empowered to bring this newfound insight to my role with a fresh perspective on the complexities of work-life balance, strategic thinking and team building, to name a few. This program is relevant, impactful and has provided a wonderful opportunity for me to cross pollinate, with others in similar roles across Grounds, to build a community all our own.”

Camille Lipnicky has served as an assistant in several different industries over the last 12 years, including in her current role as Senior Administrative Assistant in the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office. Much like Rene, she still found the HEPELA sessions useful, enlightening and fulfilling. 

“The courses have allowed me to not only learn transferable skills and strategies for work, but also enabled networking opportunities with other highly motivated assistants across all areas of the University,” Lipnicky said. “I am so thankful to get to know others I would have otherwise not met, doing similar work in departments I don’t typically interact with. I would highly recommend this for assistants who are looking to refocus and get reenergized about the support they provide to their executives.”