Lorrie Clemo: President of D’Youville University

10 Best Influential Educational Leaders in 2022

Detailed info on professional journey; why the education sector over other professions?

Lorrie Clemo is a first-generation university graduate, who watched her parents work hard to provide her an opportunity of a university education. Clemo decided to go into public policy after working in a youth center within an under-resourced community. This experience highlighted the systemic inequities in the education and health care systems. Wanting to impact the world in a more positive and larger scale, she attained her graduate degrees and started her career in higher education. She chose higher education as her career path because she believed it was the best place to influence policy change and to help people on a path for upward mobility that would last for generations. Clemo is quoted for saying she believed there is much possibility for the “betterment of society by giving people the tools they need to make change.”

Your work culture and inspiration behind stepping into the education sector?

The culture Clemo cultivates is rooted in offering best-in-class transformational experiences for the students. To achieve this level of dynamic excellence, she instills a work culture that is student centric – working toward giving students both access and control over their learning, and empowerment through information and education. The culture is preparatory in nature, whereby the university serves as a model for students, by adopting sustainable behaviors and practices. Her aim is to foreshadow the future of work they will be entering. In doing so, she has created a university that is responsive to the needs and expectations of today’s students while remaining flexible for individual students that are looking for more out of today’s university experience. Finally, Clemo creates a culture of high expectations and accountability, as without standards it is not possible to be best-in-class.

Who are you as a person, contributions to society?

Clemo states that her greatest purpose in life is to make the world a better place – at scale. “Without scale, there can’t be mass change or improvement” she says. “I approach my life and work with the aim of creating positive changes that have tangible social, economic, and environmental outcomes.” Clemo states that she wholeheartedly believes that the education sector, which prepares the leaders of tomorrow, has the greatest potential to instill knowledge, values, and the motivation necessary to tackle the major issues of the time.

Clemo states that her greatest contributions to society have been each and every graduate that she’s witnessed earn a university degree, with the unlimited potential to innovate, problem solve, create, and commit to making the world a better place.

Elucidate on the greatest achievements, challenges, and how you tackled those obstacles?

Clemo believes her biggest achievements are related to the institutions she’s collaborated with, and outcomes that were pacesetting in education. The creation of D’Youville’s Health Professions Hub in Buffalo, New York was an achievement of the power of collective impact between the institution, its students, the community it serves, and its private sector industry partners, providing the West side of Buffalo with much needed resources in healthcare, wellness, and education. More recently, Clemo’s decision to accelerate over 200 nursing and pharmacy students’ graduation during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed her students to enter the workforce early, serving their community, in a time of desperation in healthcare services. Under her tenure, D’Youville has become the first higher education institution to launch a 32-hour workweek for staff and administration without changing employees’ pay or benefits, creating a more balanced work-life for her employees. This will have a positive rippling effect on not only employees but their families and the larger communities. She is hopeful that this new employee benefit will become a standard for others in higher education and beyond where rest, wellness, and mindfulness are not only healthy habits but necessary for creativity and innovation.

Clemo is proud of these representative examples of achievements because the initiatives showcase the concepts of progress, collaboration, pacesetting, and collective impact in education, an industry which has a long history of being apprehensive to change.

Prior to D’Youville, Clemo stated she is most proud of the Global Laboratory Program she launched which established funding for students to engage in STEM research in one of over 30 partner campuses at 18 research sites throughout the world, which pushed collaborative research across continents, internationalization and built cultural awareness and competency parallel to traditional course-specific learning objectives.

How did you cope with the pandemic, what safety measures did you follow?

Reflecting on the pandemic, Clemo navigated the situation remaining calm, avoiding negativity, and focusing on the most current information available in the dynamically changing environment. In addition to staying abreast of the continually shifting regulatory changes, Clemo also stayed intune with student and employee perspectives to position the institution where it needed to be. Being mindful of the environment and technological shifts taking place, D’Youville was the first campus in Western New York to announce a transition to a fully remote teaching model in 2020. Following that transition, the institution remained focused on alternative approaches to teaching which could be rolled out to maintain public health and safety while remaining a brick-and-mortar campus. Another unique decision Clemo made was to pilot the 32-hour workweek, leveraging a government sponsored shared work program to reduce employee stress and office density, while also conserving institutional resources during a very uncertain financial period. Finally, testing and vaccine clinics were opened on campus to serve not only the university stakeholders but to serve the broader community to improve health throughout the region.

What are the technologies that you focus on to cope with ever-growing technological world?

Most institutions focus on digital tools in the classroom, simulation, and cloud classrooms. While these are important to Clemo and being utilized at D’Youville, right now Clemo’s primary focus is on designing and deploying collaborative workflow management solutions, which streamline the speed of processes and reduce the shuffling of paper. There is also a large emphasis on digital tools which enable a greater focus on structured independence and tasks and assignments that are project-based in nature.

What methodologies do you follow to educate people more diligently?

From the students’ perspective we are focusing on accelerating degrees and finding ways to be more flexible, letting students have more control over the time, place, path, and pace of their learning. A major focus is also to cultivate vibrant hands-on learning experiences through simulation and real-world professional opportunities. From an institutional perspective, Clemo has a forward-thinking mindset, looking toward the future of work and trying to model what that will become for our students right here on campus. One example of this is through the shift to a 32-hour workweek, which is a benefit heavily reliant on technology. Through this direction, all staff and administration are mandated to complete free continuing education courses which largely focus on technological competencies, project management, user experience, and data analytics.

Share your thoughts on online education, how is it nurturing students’ and educators’ lives, respectively?

In today’s age, many students take non-traditional paths to their degree, and must manage work schedules and family commitments. President Clemo has been a strong supporter of online learning for nearly two decades and seen online learning as a matter of not only convenience which many students prefer, but also a method for increasing access to high quality education.

In the early 2000s, she helped to create an exclusive, online-only winter session semester which offered accelerated courses designed to be completed over the break for students who either fell behind in their coursework or wanted to accelerate their degree completion. Clemo brought this experience to D’Youville, as there was not online instruction when Clemo arrived. She quickly created a Dean of Online Learning and elevated the role to a cabinet level position to support the initiative of quickly developing and rolling out an online curriculum. At D’Youville, a representative example of her focus has been the deployment of an accelerated 3-year PharmD program, as well as the development of an online FNP program.

How do you manage to deliver seamless offerings?

Clemo’s strategy on delivering seamless offerings is based upon the deployment of wrap-around support services, many of which are available to students 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Upon arriving at D’Youville, Clemo organized a series of employee-led research projects which examined institutional workflow across programs, departments, and offices. This work resulted in the design and development of one-stop-centers for the registrar, student accounts, advisement, financial aid, etc. These restructurings centralized services to professional full-time staff advisors and reduced faculty workloads. When it became apparent the pandemic was really beginning to impact her students, Clemo began to push for more ease of use and access, resulting in the digitalization of student services such as tutoring, counseling, faculty office hours, and even religious and spiritual services. Now students may receive ubiquitous campus services anytime, anywhere, providing a seamless integration of service and progress through their coursework more easily.

How do you look forward to your future endeavors, and what stands D’Youville apart from others?

Clemo is excited and optimistic for the future. D’Youville and the education sector are undergoing a period a vast, dynamic changes. Some may look at the turbulence and uncertainly in a negative light. However, Clemo’s perspective is that these changes will encourage the institution and industry to grow stronger and re-position itself to be more sustainable. At D’Youville specifically, Clemo has been focusing on expanding their niche in the health sciences, as well as doing a better job of meeting the needs of the community. In addition, she is focused on making moves to attract more impactful partnerships and investment in the university.

Share your viewpoint on how technological advancement with time affects/nurtures an individual’s life?

The technological advancements that Clemo has embraced at D’Youville has been challenging but have provided much needed insights and improvements into the university’s approach to customer service, efficiency, and a work/life balance.

On the instructional side, Clemo has made significant investments in the provision of simulation technology to improve opportunities for meaningful experiential learning to take place. On the employer side, Clemo launched the 32-hour work week benefit, a technology-driven health and wellness initiative. Clemo continues to leverage technology to improve experiences and expand opportunities for students and employees.

What is the piece of advice you want to convey to the young minds, who are looking forward to building their career in the education sector?

Higher education is dynamically changing, and beyond the education sector, the post-COVID world is emerging as an age of entrepreneurialism. Institutions are struggling as they simultaneously navigate challenges of staffing issues and demands for differentiated services at more competitive prices.

Individuals are opting for flexibility over job security, and employment functions are shifting to emphasize short-term project-based management styles over long-term career opportunities.

From Clemo’s perspective, the only thing which is certain is that the future of work in education will not be what it is today, nor will it be as it was during the pre-COVID times. “To succeed” she says, “you will need to be focused on the needs of the students; agile, motivated, specialized, yet broadly aware of the relevant knowledge and skills needed to operate organizations.”

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