IFT members Leslie Herzog and Jacqueline Beckley have been involved with food science department leadership boards during the past three decades at Cornell University, Michigan State University, University of California, Davis, and University of Massachusetts.
Food science leadership boards got their start in the early 1990s, envisioned as a way to offer more feedback to food science programs. These boards potentially can provide a number of vital benefits to students, faculty, staff, and the university at large. Yet over the years, some boards have become little more than unstructured groups of people with ties to the department, rather than proactive organizations with a viable mission and purpose.
How can leadership boards use their time together wisely and make significant differences at their institutions? After spending 40-plus years collectively serving on boards and listening to faculty, staff, and students talk about their experiences positively and not so positively, we have some thoughts to share. Let’s start by looking at why it’s advantageous to create a food science leadership board in the first place.
Supporting the Food Science Department
Although its role may change over time as the department changes, the board is there to help meet the needs of the food science department chair. That can include:
The leadership board’s specific responsibilities can run the gamut, depending on how hands on the department wants members to be. Here are some common and valuable tasks that board members can carry out:
Selecting Board Members
We believe the ideal leadership board size is about 25 members. That’s a large enough group to get things done and provide a somewhat broad representation of ideas without creating huge organization/management issues. We have been involved with leadership boards ranging from seven members, which is too small, to those with as many as 40 members, which may be too large and requires good management between the department and the member leadership.
Most people on the board should have had some affiliation with the department or university, or they should be from companies with a previous department affiliation or that are located in the same state as the department. This ensures that board members have some understanding of the unique role the department plays in the school or state.
Some leadership boards have a nomination committee to identify potential board candidates and make recommendations to the department chair. Others rely on the department chair and faculty to identify potential board members, who then are vetted through the college’s administration before being approached to serve on the board.
Each member should plan to serve for three to four years, the general membership term among leadership boards, with reappointment decided by the department chair. Having members with multiple terms on the leadership board can be valuable as long as they are making continuing contributions to both the department and the board.
A three-chair board model where each role lasts for two years seems to work best: chair, chair-elect, and past chair. This structure enables excellent continuity while providing for overlap in case someone is unable to attend a board meeting.
Creating a Charter
Every leadership board needs a charter, usually a one- to two-page document that is updated at least every five years. Download a template to get your charter started today (pdf or Word doc). The charter should contain these elements:
The leadership board mission statement should directly tie into the mission statement of the food science department, such as this example:
The mission of the Department of Food Science Leadership Board is to provide guidance and consultation to the department faculty and students, to enable best in class food science education through members’ advice, mentorship, career resources, and industry leadership. We build a bright future for the food industry.
Charters typically also identify subcommittees that can address specific issues, gather between meetings, and provide updates at meetings of the complete board. These subcommittees might cover issues like student engagement, nominations, philanthropy, outreach, and mentoring.
Ongoing Opportunities for Boards
Every food science department is different, of course, but over the years we have seen some innovative leadership board initiatives that served their departments well:
Several years ago, at the conclusion of a leadership board meeting, we approached the department chair and said, “How do you think the meeting went? Do you think you received $60,000 worth of advice from the board in the past 24 hours?” The chair looked kind of startled, so we explained: If the board were a group of 20 consultants/experts who had gathered for a 24-hour meeting, each of those leaders probably would charge a minimum of $3,000 a day, easily adding up to a tab of $60,000 (plus expenses). The chair had never thought about it that way before.
Leadership boards are a great way for those of us who believe in our profession to give back. If your department doesn’t have a leadership board, consider developing one. If your department already has a leadership board, consider making it even more of an active advocate for your program. Many industry and government leaders are just waiting to be asked to become leadership board members, and many leadership boards want to do more than they are currently being asked to do. Think of a leadership board as a contribution to the food science department’s endowment fund—everyone will benefit.
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