Servant leadership, a concept popularized by consultant Robert K. Greenleaf in the 1970s, is grounded in the notion of a leader who serves the needs and encourages the development of others, as opposed to the more traditional notion of a power-centered authoritarian leader. During the last six weeks I have witnessed servant leadership on a daily basis as the Jepson School staff have worked quietly and diligently behind the scenes to ensure the smooth operation of the School in these most challenging times.
Administrative staff Stephanie Trent, Linda Trent, Katherine Rockwell, and Michele Bedsaul assisted faculty with implementing the technology to move their classes online. They scanned and uploaded to Blackboard countless documents to ensure students could access their course materials remotely. Other staff members created new Web pages to showcase our faculty members’ COVID-19-related expertise and our students’ independent and honors research projects.
Even more than this, I am touched by our staff members’ care for our students, a care that goes above and beyond the constraints of their workday duties. Administrative coordinator Michele Bedsaul provides but one example.
For several years, Michele has participated in the University’s Host Family Program, which matches international students with families of University alumni, faculty, and staff. International students don’t live with their hosts, rather they spend time with them—sharing meals, visiting local sites, and attending sporting events and performances.
Michele hosted three international students this year, including Fan Yueyi, a first-year student from China who adopted the American name “Pheebe.” When the University switched to remote learning mid-semester, most students moved back home with relative ease. But getting back to her home in Shenzhen, China, proved difficult for Pheebe.
After the cancellation of her May 4 flight and considerable negotiating with various airlines, Pheebe eventually secured a reservation for a flight departing April 26. Last Friday, Michele picked up Pheebe in Virginia Beach, where she had been staying with friends, and brought her to her home in Richmond. Two days later, Michele drove Pheebe to Delaware, where she met family friends who took her to Newark to catch her flight.
Pheebe’s story ends well: She made it back to China, where she is in quarantine for two weeks before she can travel to Shenzhen to be reunited with her mother. She is already looking forward to returning to the University, where she knows she has a friend and host she can count on.
For my part, I am most grateful to Michele and all the Jepson staff members who have supported our faculty and students with grace and good cheer throughout the unexpected twists and turns of the last six weeks. Indeed, their servant leadership undergirds the extraordinary community we know and love at the Jepson School and the University.