College of Architecture, Art and Construction

Art chair shares lessons learned from President’s Leadership Institute


The President’s Leadership Institute is a nine-month leadership development program at that invests, supports and develops personal leadership in a diverse community of faculty and staff. Each year, 25 Clemson University employees are selected to participate in the program.

Valerie Zimany, Art Department Chair, represented the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities in the 2020-2021 leadership cohort. Clemson News caught up with Zimany to learn how her experience in PLI made an impact.

Clemson News: How were you selected for participation in PLI?

Valerie Zimany: I was nominated last year by CAAH Interim Dean Tim Boosinger, and the final cohort is determined by President Clements and his selection committee. I am grateful for the support and encouragement to join the 5th cohort!

CN: What do you think was the No. 1 lesson in leadership you learned from participating in PLI?

VZ: Leadership takes effort and development. It may be perceived as more “natural” to some, but we all can grow our professional capacities with the desire to learn and the opportunity to do so mindfully and with guidance over time. I learned confidence to be a leader, and acceptance that sometimes I may be wrong, but if I surround myself with positive people who care about our organization, we will find the right path to succeed.

One key element that resonated was maintaining a positive outlook – the Chair’s office can sometimes feel like a constant state of “triage” – particularly this past year! That can crowd out the bigger picture – the PLI meetings kept us all focused on the big picture for Clemson and ourselves as individuals. Despite the great challenges of the past academic year, President Clements’ positive outlook in every meeting was refreshing and energizing.

I also learned much from our alumni speakers. I especially I enjoyed our visit with restaurateur and entrepreneur Edmund Woo, ‘80, and his outlook on hard work and loving “the grind” – that it’s a leadership quality to not walk away until the job is done.

It was extremely rewarding to feel President Clements and his leadership team were personally invested in this program.”

Valerie Zimany, Clemson Art Department Chair

CN: How did PLI change your perspective on your department?

VZ: I understood more holistically that those things that affect my department affect the University, and that I have the ability to contribute and shape those discussions.

I view my Chair leadership role as fundamentally one of service – to each Clemson student in our Art programs, to our faculty and staff in providing academic and professional support, and to the University in program development and fiscal management. I believe Art is a critical component of a comprehensive university, and a lens through which critical and contemporary discourse can be promoted. Through my PLI experience, I hope to establish further cross-disciplinary relationships with colleagues and programs and by advocacy and outreach to the community.

CN: Can you share any examples of people who you met through PLI that you might not have connected with otherwise?

VZ: Each session had a paired “Leaders of the Day” to present a topic, and my co-leader was Jon Clayton, Executive Customer Success Manager for CCIT.  We soon discovered our topical connection through my role in the Art Department and Jon’s responsibility to Clemson’s innovative Adobe Partnership, and developed our presentation on “creativity”. 

We thought of creativity from the position that any students with educational experience in art and design are elegantly positioned for complexity and innovation — reasoning by analogy, making non-routine connections, and identifying patterns are all related to the same area of the brain that is activated when people are engaged in the visual and performing arts. The new B.A. Art degree launched this year is intended to facilitate those opportunities for a broad spectrum of Clemson students who wish to combine art studies with complementary disciplines. Based on our joint research we find that creativity is not a luxury; it is an essential element of success for our students’ future.

CN: What would you say to another faculty or staff member considering participating?                    

The time commitment is absolute – never miss a meeting! The PLI is an exceptional experience. You commit your time, energy, ideas and enthusiasm to the program and come away with leadership skills, expanded University contacts and memories that last a lifetime.

Teamwork and bonding take place during the case studies, site visits and discussions, but it isn’t all work; the current cohort joins with PLI alumni for networking, design challenges and volunteer projects.

CN: Is there anything else about PLI that you would like to share?          

It was extremely rewarding to feel President Clements and his leadership team were personally invested in this program.  I have adopted some elements in our own department meetings to continue building a positive community, such as the standing invitation to “share the good news.”

I also have great gratitude that we could meet and learn in person together. That was a critical element and I appreciate the effort to make it happen safely.

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