Doerr Institute for New Leaders expands presence at Rice

After only a year on campus, Rice University’s Doerr Institute for New Leaders is making great strides in developing what Director Tom Kolditz calls “the most comprehensive leader development initiative at any top 20 university.”

Doerr Institute pilot program participants speak about their experience at a panel discussion.

Doerr Institute pilot program participants speak about their experiences at a spring 2016 panel discussion. Photo by Connor Stuart-Paul.

The Doerr Institute is dedicated to creating universitywide leader development opportunities and ultimately providing professional leader development for every student at Rice who wants it. This semester the institute has expanded its efforts with leadership coaching opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, an expanded training program for leadership coaches and a new effort to gather metrics to track progress.

“The Doerr Institute is working closely with Rice faculty and students to ensure that our leadership program arises from and aligns with Rice culture and deeply held shared values,” said Rice Provost Marie Lynn Miranda. “Evidenced-based in its approach, it resists leadership fads. This distinctive strategy is already having a wonderful impact on our campus.”

Spring 2016: An expanded coaching pilot program

After its inaugural leadership-coaching pilot program in fall 2015, the institute offered a larger program this semester to provide individualized coaching to 266 sophomores from all 11 residential colleges. Coaches certified by the International Coach Federation (ICF) worked with students to design individualized leadership-development programs that concluded this month.

As with the pilot program, students met with their coaches to identify personality-specific goals that would improve their leadership development. Each student also was given a challenge: influence some type of decision, such as a family decision or a class project decision.

Participant Constantine Tzouanas, a Wiess College rising sophomore, said students begin the coaching process by completing questionnaires that help build each student’s “personal idea of leadership.”

“It’s based on (your) experience — what you see a leader to be, what … leadership-development experiences you have had in the past, where you have developed and what areas you would like to develop,” he said during a recent student panel discussion sponsored by the institute.

Tzouanas said that in the very first session, the professional coach works one-on-one with students to interpret their individual assessments.

“By the end of the first meeting you have this very clear picture of where you are now as a leader, and a specific leadership goal that you would like to develop over the course of the remaining sessions in the context of your activities,” he said.

Doerr Institute Director Tom Kolditz discusses the institute's efforts to create universitywide leader development opportunities at a recent panel discussion.

Doerr Institute Director Tom Kolditz discusses the institute’s efforts to create universitywide leader development opportunities at a spring 2016 panel discussion. Photo by Connor Stuart-Paul.

Kolditz said the coaching also included specific diversity training for students, which makes it “one of the most impactful diversity-training activities on campus.” He said students are encouraged to consider diversity “blind spots” and personal biases that may keep them from being an effective leader. In addition, the culturally specific needs of international students are addressed in the one-on-one coaching sessions.

Holly Tompson, the associate director for coaching at the Doerr Institute, said the coaches and students have many personal conversations and get to know one another well. This closeness leads to deep awareness and helps drive the personalized learning process.

“Students appreciate the learning opportunities that result from engaging with a professional coach,” she said.

Throughout the semester, the institute solicited feedback from the students on their progress with the pilot program.

“I am feeling more and more confident in my leadership abilities with every session,” one student wrote on their feedback form. “Each session is full of positivity that motivates me to achieve my goals.”

Another participant said, “I really think I’ve been able to notice a difference in my thinking, and I am always encouraged to think of new ideas to fine-tune my skills.”

“As we approach the end of the program, I realize that I’ve genuinely learned a lot about myself so far and have really appreciated this opportunity to develop more as a leader,” another student wrote.

The institute found that 89 percent of students involved in the pilot indicated that they are “developing a clearer understanding of (their individual) strengths as a leader.” In addition, 95 percent called their coaching sessions “valuable,” and 88 percent said that “coaching was helpful to me as a leader.” Ninety-eight percent of the students involved with the coaching program indicated on their evaluation forms that their coach “demonstrated an openness to understanding my personal challenges as a leader.”

Tracking successes

Metrics are an essential and powerful thread running through all of the initiatives developed by the Doerr Institute, according to Catherine Oleksiw, director of the Doerr Institute Third Eye metrics team. The team, which consists of Oleksiw and three psychology doctoral students, provides ongoing metrics to support the institute’s goal of continuously improving its programs.

“The Rice community as well as the larger Houston community engaged in any of the Doerr Institute leader-development initiatives commit to contributing to a data pool reflecting process, outcomes and impact,” Oleksiw said. “For the coaching program, Third Eye considers many aspects of the leader-development experience. Beyond gathering feedback on the process piece related to effective program delivery, we are committed to determining what participants learn about themselves, how they experiment with new strategies out of their comfort zone and ultimately, how they contribute to the community in which they study, work and play.”

Initially focusing this semester on gathering data on process and short-term outcomes, “the Third Eye currently is developing a system to track the successes of students and staff beyond their first leader-development experience to subsequent leader opportunities as they continue their engagement with the institute,” Oleksiw said. “With this rich data set, we will begin to create a more comprehensive profile of the Doerr leader-development experience at Rice.”

Plans for developing graduate student leaders and promoting leadership development research

Kolditz noted that the institute’s efforts are directed at more than undergraduates.

“One of our principal means of developing graduate students is in the context of their research teams,” he said. “We are creating an evidence-based model for leader development in faculty-research teams. It will ultimately impact how graduate students lead and learn about leading in teams, but without pulling them out of the lab or putting them in a situation created solely for their development.”

Eduardo Salas, the Allyn R. and Gladys M. Cline Chair of Psychology at Rice, and three of his Ph.D. students will design a training program aimed at fostering collaboration and improving dynamics within research teams.

Kolditz said the institute also is working to provide Rice faculty with $250,000 in grants for research on leader development or for innovative teaching programs that develop students as leaders.

Training new leadership coaches

The Doerr Institute just completed a pilot of an ICF-approved leadership-coach training program. The pilot included Rice students, staff, alumni and Houston community members. In spring 2017, the program will be offered in conjunction with Rice’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies. It will provide 60 hours of training to achieve the first level of certification necessary to become an ICF-certified coach and will be open to students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the Houston community.

“We are not aware of any other university meeting ICF accreditation in the training of leaders who coach their students, whether those leaders are staff or upperclass students. We are excited to use ICF standards as our baseline,” Kolditz said.

Tompson said that participants complete various readings and assignments outside of class so that their time together can be spent in experiential learning activities. Case studies, coaching demonstrations and personality assessments are utilized to create a learning environment where students learn from their peers and from various speakers. In the course, the participants also learn to appreciate that the individuals they coach are embedded in a system such as an educational institution, a residential community or a civic or business organization.

“As such, coaches are taught to pay attention to the organizational roles that a person occupies in order to help them create changes that are both impactful and sustainable,” Tompson said.

One of the program’s functions will be to serve as a source of peer coaches for different centers on the Rice campus. Nicole Van Den Heuvel, director of Rice’s Center for Career Development (CCD), participated in the coach-training pilot. She said the CCD and Center for Civic Leadership are excited to collaborate with the Doerr Institute in piloting a program that will equip a cohort of students to coach other students.

“All students will have access to leadership development to improve their soft skills and emotional intelligence to complement their Rice education and pave the way for success in personal and professional growth,” she said. “This pilot aims to create a self-sustaining model for delivering a resource bank of coaching throughout the university to serve the Rice student body.”

First Doerr Institute fellow 

The Doerr Institute has also recruited Rice alumna and former Houston Mayor Annise Parker ’78 to work with students.

“We are excited that Annise Parker is our first Doerr Institute fellow,” Kolditz said. “She will be a terrific resource for our students, and in particular, our students who have been elected to leadership positions across the university. Her experience in that respect is unmatched at Rice.”

Kolditz said that fellows are selected for their unique talent and experience and will work with the institute for periods of time to add to its mission of developing new leaders.

The Rice advantage

Both Kolditz and Tompson said that the Rice program is unique in its pairing of a quality education experience with leadership coaching by ICF-credentialed coaches.

“One thing I find interesting about Rice is its mission to produce leaders across the spectrum of human endeavor,” Tompson said. “The support the university has shown to the Doerr Institute has been amazing and is aligned with what Rice is all about — producing people with skills, expertise and ability to go into their communities and lead.”

For more information about the new offerings through the Doerr Institute, visit

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.