Susan Fritz is Executive Vice President and Provost and Dean of the Graduate College for the University of Nebraska, but calls the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication her alma mater and tenure home.
A native Nebraskan from a farm near Crete, Fritz earned her undergraduate, graduate and doctorate degrees all from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She earned her master's degree in Agricultural Education and Adult Education in ALEC in 1989.
Fritz served as ALEC department head from 1994 to 2004 and was the first female in the United States to head a department similar to ALEC. Following that position, Fritz became associate dean of the UNL College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, interim dean of the Agricultural Research Division and associate vice chancellor for the UNL Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. She became the second female provost at the University of Nebraska when she accepted the position in 2011.
As provost, some of Fritz's responsibilities include overseeing the academic programs of all of the university's four campuses, implementing policies governing graduate studies and research, as well as serving as acting president in the temporary absence of the president.
Although Fritz has held numerous positions that come with a degree of what leadership scholars call "positional power," authority and influence bestowed by a position or office on whoever is filling it, "Position power is never something I like to rely on," Fritz said.
"I am that person who wants to sit down with other people and figure out the best way forward, not me telling them how it's going to be," Fritz said. "I'd rather come into a situation and ask a lot of questions to figure out how I can help, rather than come in with a solution and tell them they just have to live with it."
Just as Fritz's career has grown, ALEC has grown in the wake of her leadership.
"I was able to have a lot of experience early on in my career that most people don't get to have," Fritz said. "Being a part of a community of caring colleagues in ALEC who not only were supportive, but who also helped me challenge my assumptions, allowed me to stretch and grow. Not everybody can say that about the people they work with on a regular basis."
ALEC was a smaller, social sciences program of 56 undergraduate students in 1994 within the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, which, Fritz said, is predominantly a technical sciences college.
"Campus was undergoing several budget cuts and it was a challenge for us in regard to our size," Fritz said. "It was kind of like the 'smallest gazelle in the pack' sort of thing."
To ensure ALEC's programs and classes were relevant and relatable to CASNR and IANR's technical sciences portfolio, Fritz asked pertinent questions to get ALEC more engaged.
"'How do you make ALEC central to everything that happens within IANR?'" Fritz said, "and 'How do we make certain the ALEC faculty have voices at the table?'"
By asking these questions, Fritz found ways to highlight the importance of social sciences like leadership, teaching and communication.
"The relationship piece is kind of an undercurrent right along with the process," Fritz said.
By leading the department in a way that prioritized faculty and student development, Fritz was able to empower individuals to move ALEC classes and programs forward.
"I think it's really important to be focused on developing others, particularly if you are a leader," Fritz said, "I enjoyed taking care of problems that seemed to be in the way of people's success and coaching people with regard to those problems. Sometimes people see roadblocks before they see opportunities." ALEC has since grown to 160 undergraduate students in 2016.
"It was important for us to think and work very closely as a faculty so we understood how to strategically position ourselves and come out the other side as a department," Fritz said, "and we did."
Fritz taught several sections of ALEC's introductory class, ALEC 102 (Interpersonal Skills for Leadership) and ALEC 202 (Leadership Development in Small Groups and Teams), as well as graduate level seminars. Fritz was the lead editor for the first edition of the textbook still used today in ALEC 102, Interpersonal Skills for Leadership and lead editor for subsequent editions. She won the 1999 College Teaching Award and the UNL Parents Association Recognition for her contribution to students five years in a row.
Fritz later worked with Fayrene Hamouz, who was then associate dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences, to spearhead the Hospitality, Restaurant and Tourism Management degree program. The HRTM program is a partnership between CASNR and the CEHS.
"Now there are hundreds of young people completing degrees in areas that didn't exist before," Fritz said. "That's huge."
"It's exciting for me to think about developing individuals who undoubtedly have the ability to just blow past where I'm at in knowledge and potential," Fritz said. "That gives me a lot of satisfaction about the future."
ALEC now houses several degree programs which include HRTM, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Communication and Agricultural Education. Agricultural Education has three different options which include leadership, agricultural teacher preparation, and skilled and technical sciences teacher preparation. ALEC faculty member Lindsay Hastings leads the Nebraska Human Resources Institute, which Fritz formally led as a faculty member in ALEC.
"There's tremendous potential for Nebraska and Nebraska's farms," said Fritz, "I want there to be a University for the next generation to attend and students to know they can make a difference in the world, right here from Nebraska."