What Does ‘Courageous Leadership’ Mean to You?...

Hear from Former College Presidents & CampusWorks' Executive Advisory Board Members

EAB Thought Leadership

What Does ‘Courageous Leadership’ Mean to You?

Advice for New Leaders from Those Who Have Walked Before You

by CampusWorks’ Executive Advisors

In today’s complex world, leading a higher education institution presents unprecedented challenges that demand a distinct brand of leadership—courageous leadership. This guide, created by CampusWorks’ seasoned Leadership Advisors, offers insights, practical advice, and real-life stories from the trenches that explore what it takes to lead with valor and vision.

Christine Hammond, Ph.D.

Dr. Christine M. Hammond served as President of Mid Michigan College. Prior to that, she was Chief Academic Officer for North Central Michigan College. Dr. Hammond’s career has encompassed numerous leadership experiences in student and academic affairs across a variety of institutional settings with significant expertise in institutional research, curriculum alignment and development, and strategic planning. President Hammond holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Thiel College, a Master of Arts degree in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University, and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Michigan State University.

Making Unpopular (But Essential) Decisions

When faced with the monumental decision of what to do with Mid Michigan College’s beloved but beleaguered Harrison Campus, then President Hammond proposed a bold solution — one that would require campus community members to let go of cherished spaces and routines, including the very room where their Trustees had convened for decades. Drawing from this experience, Dr. Hammond reflected, “Courageous leadership involves making tough decisions that may not be immediately popular but are essential for the sustainable advancement of our institutions.”

Read Christine’s story,
“The Courage to Make Unpopular (But Essential) Decisions”:
 full story » 

Inclusivity, Especially in Divisive Times

Having weathered storms that tested the bounds of his courage and resolve — from dealing with an Ebola alert and a shooting on campus to confronting hate, bigotry, antisemitism, and prejudice — longtime leader Cary Israel discovered, “True leadership requires a blend of courage, tenacity, and, perhaps most importantly, the ability to bring people together. In an era marked by division, the path forward is often shrouded in uncertainty. Yet, I firmly believe that the solution lies in our collective needs, in forging a ‘fusion’ of diverse perspectives into a cohesive whole that reinforces our democratic ideals and the strategic vision of our institutions.”

Read Cary’s story,
“The Courage to Unite”:
 full story » 

Cary Israel, J.D.

Dr. Cary Israel is the district president emeritus of Collin College, TX, a multi-campus operation serving more than 52,000 students annually. Cary served as president of Collin College from 1999 through 2015. He previously served as president of Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey, president of the Illinois Community College System, and president of Front Range Community College in Colorado. Cary earned a BA with highest honors from Michigan State University and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Detroit Mercy Law School.

Frederick V. Moore, J.D.

Fred Moore served as president of Buena Vista University for twenty-two years and was named president emeritus in 2017. He is currently a search consultant with AGB Search. Prior to his service at BVU, Fred was vice president for development and general counsel at North Carolina Wesleyan College. He has served on the boards of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Council of Independent Colleges, and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. He holds a Juris Doctor with Honors, an MBA, and a BA from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Collaboration and Communication

When Buena Vista University had the chance to become one of the nation’s first entirely wireless campuses, then President Moore faced a pivotal decision. Embracing both significant risks and potential rewards, he chose to take a bold leap. This decision not only tested his resolve but also highlighted his capacity for courageous leadership. “Courage, though a necessary characteristic in leadership, is not sufficient without a team of experts who can advise the president in a collaborative manner and a communication strategy that ensures stakeholders know why a decision is being made. Bold presidential action with these elements is the real formula for success.”

Read Fred’s story,
“The Courage to Go Where No Campus Has Gone Before”:
 full story » 

Showing Up and Letting Go

During her presidency at Waubonsee Community College, which spanned nearly 22 years, Dr. Sobek encountered many opportunities and challenges — from innovative strategic and master planning initiatives to the intricate dynamics of community relations and collective bargaining. Reflecting on her experiences, she observed, “College presidents face daily successes and challenges at a relentless pace, which can take a cumulative toll on a President’s health, energy, and outlook. In today’s unpredictable and turbulent world, the greatest demonstration of courageous leadership may be showing up every day, letting go of what did or did not happen yesterday, and leading the college with a renewed sense of professionalism, resilience, and grace.”

Read Christine’s story,
“The Courage to Show Up”:
 full story » 

Christine J. Sobek, Ed.D.

Dr. Christine J. Sobek’s 43-year career in higher education has been marked by exemplary leadership overseeing diverse academic operations. She has held various administrative roles in the community college setting, and as such, Dr. Sobek has mastered the intricacies of higher education administration. Most recently Dr. Sobek served as the president of Waubonsee Community College for 22 years and was named the president emeritus in January of 2023. Dr. Sobek’s contributions reach beyond the classroom into the community. She sits on the board of directors for the Conservation Foundation, Rush-Copley Medical Center, the Aurora Economic Development Corp., the Geneva History Center and the Greater Aurora Chamber of Commerce. She has contributed dozens of articles about education to local newspapers.

Dr. Sobek earned a doctoral degree from Northern Illinois University, a master’s degree from Michigan State University, and a bachelor’s degree, with Highest Distinction, from Purdue University. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and an honorary member of Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society.

Dale K. Nesbary, Ph.D.

Dale K. Nesbary, Ph.D. served as President of Muskegon Community College from 2009-2022 during which time the college was named best community college in Michigan in 2017 and 2021 by BestColleges.com and Intellegent.com respectively, employing standard success metrics. The College featured perennially nationally ranked RN and LPN nursing programs, and two performance groups (West Michigan Concert Winds and the MCC Collegiate Singers) having performed in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of New York’s famed Carnegie Hall.

Prior to MCC, he served as Vice President and Dean for Academic Affairs and Full Professor of Political Science at Adrian College and as Associate Professor and Director of the Master of Public Administration Program at Oakland University. He also served as Research Director and Technical Services Director with the Boston Police Department as well as in leadership positions with City of Boston central administration. He also held analytic positions with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, Colorado, and the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency. During his professional career, he personally led multiple strategic planning processes, technology process redesign initiatives, and governance transitions.

He has presented on hundreds of occasions to academic, leadership, governance, legislative, and executive branch institutions and published three books and over 30 academic/refereed papers primarily in the areas of finance, technology, and policing. He earned a Ph.D. in Law, Policy and Society from Northeastern University, a Master of Public Administration degree from Western Michigan University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Michigan State University.

In addition to the CampusWorks Executive Advisory Board, he continues to chair the Trinity Health System Michigan Board and previously served on the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) National Board, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Workforce Development Commission, and the American Council of Education (ACE) Fellows Executive Board among others. He remains a silver life member of the NAACP.

He resides in Newburg, MD with his beautiful wife of 43 years, Connie and is the proud father of two adult children, Nicole, and Matthew. His interests include baking bread, crafting jams, and gigging with any group needing a trombonist.

Commitment and Vision

Drawing inspiration from leadership expert Jim Collins, who posited that enduringly great organizations must be “built to last,” Dr. Dale Nesbary set a bold vision for Muskegon Community College to become the best community college in Michigan. From this experience, he learned a valuable lesson: “As we look to the future, it is crucial that we continue to lead our institutions with resilience, innovation, and a commitment to inclusive excellence. We must ensure that our colleges and universities do not merely survive but thrive, transforming challenges into opportunities for growth and success. This is the essence of courageous leadership—navigating through uncertainty with a steadfast commitment to our core values and a clear vision for the future.”

Read Dale’s story,
“The Courage to Be the Best”:
 full story » 

Initiate Due Diligence

Get the resources your campus requires and empower students to reach their full potential.