About Us

Higher education leaders face increasingly complex challenges both internally and in their relationships with the broader communities that they serve. Economic and social stratification, political polarization, and the fallout from a global pandemic are among the ongoing challenges facing universities and the broader society. How can university leaders be effective in this uncertain environment?

The Engagement Academy for University Leaders (EA) is a professional development program designed to help higher education leaders develop collaborative relationships with external partners in a way that helps institutions and communities thrive. EA programs are led by scholars and national higher education leaders whose research and practice focuses on building and sustaining engaged institutions. EA curriculum draws on the best of research and scholarship in the domain of organizational leadership and change.

With a 14-year track record and over 1,000 participants, the EA is a well-tested and evaluated, results-oriented premier professional and institutional development program. Programs focus on preparing higher education leaders (senior to mid-level) to advance community engagement strategies in support of their institutional goals. The EA is national/global in scope and scale, involving a mix of institutional types and missions.

History of the Academy

The Engagement Academy evolved from a 2006 Wingspread Conference of a Higher Education Network for Community Engagement (HENCE) as a way to advance coordination and cooperation across diverse engagement-related organizations in order to encourage the further development, improvement, and impact of community engagement.

HENCE participants recognized the critical role of institutional leaders in community engagement, so they prioritized specialized executive development for this group as an important new activity to advance the field. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, (Virginia Tech) through the leadership of Theodore Settle and its Center for Organizational and Technological Advancement, picked up on this idea of an ‘Engagement Academy for University Leaders’ by forming an advisory planning group of prominent engagement academic professionals, association leaders, and practitioners. Lorilee Sandmann, professor at the University of Georgia, facilitated the planning process going from ideation to implementation. Continuous investment, support, and hosting of the Academy was provided by the administration of VA Tech, specifically Drs. Jeri Childers and Susan Short, along with their professional development and continuing education unit and staff. The original EA faculty include Lorilee Sandmann, three-time university president Judith A. Ramaley, and Barbara Holland, an internationally renowned expert on the topic of university-community engagement.

In 2019, the EA moved to the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities where it is hosted by Educational Technology Innovations (ETI). The EA delivery format was updated to include hybrid and online learning programs that serve the unique needs of engagement leaders and engagement-focused associations. David Weerts, Professor and Faculty Director in the Office for Public Engagement currently serves as director of the EA.

Our Team

Academy Faculty


David J. Weerts, Ph.D., is a professor of higher education and the faculty director for academic planning and programs in the Office for Public Engagement at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He also serves as director of the Engagement Academy for University Leaders. Over the past twenty years, his scholarship and teaching have focused on intersections among university-community engagement, state financing of higher education, and institutional advancement. His research on these topics has appeared in leading educational journals including Teachers College Record, The Journal of Higher Education, Research in Higher Education, and the Review of Higher Education. He has received awards for this work from the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), and the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good. Dr. Weerts has held major gift officer positions at the University of Wisconsin Foundation and the University of Minnesota Foundation and served two terms on the executive committee for the Association for Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) Council on Engagement and Outreach. He currently serves on the board of directors for Iowa- Minnesota Campus Compact and on the editorial board for the Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement. Dr. Weerts holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He can be reached at dweerts@umn.edu.


Lorilee R. Sandmann, Ph.D., is a professor emerita in Lifelong Education, Administration, and Policy, the College of Education at The University of Georgia. For over 45 years, she held administrative, faculty, extension, and outreach positions at the University of Minnesota, Michigan State University, Cleveland State University, as well as The University of Georgia. She is also the former editor of the Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement. Dr. Sandmann’s research, teaching, writing, advising, and consulting focuses on leadership and organizational change in higher education with special emphasis on the institutionalization of community engagement, as well as faculty roles and rewards related to community-engaged scholarship. She is the recipient of the Distinguished Researcher Award by the International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement and the UGA’s Outstanding Faculty Scholarship of Engagement Award. She has been inducted into the Academy of Community Engagement Scholarship and the International Adult Continuing Education Hall of Fame. She has been the director of the National Review Board for the Scholarship of Engagement, leader of the Engagement Academy for University Leaders, and serves as a core reviewer and on the National Advisory Panel for the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement. Dr. Sandmann holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She can be reached at sandmann@uga.edu.



Rena Cotsones, PhD.is Chief Engagement Officer and Senior Associate Vice President for the Division of Outreach, Engagement, and Regional Development, Northern Illinois University. In her role, she advances the university’s public mission and provides leadership, partnership, and support for faculty, staff, and students interested in engaging with the broader region. She oversees the Center for Governmental Studies, the P-20 Center for Engagement, the university’s three regional centers and field campus, NIU’s centralized conferencing and event management function, and NIU’s Public Engagement Networks. Dr. Cotsones is actively engaged in the national dialogue on university engagement and outreach. She is a former Chair of the Executive Committee of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) Council on Engagement and Outreach and is a current member of the Commission on Community and Economic Engagement. She can be reached at rcotsones@niu.edu.


Judith A. Ramaley (pronounced Rah may’ lee) is President Emerita and Distinguished Professor of Public Service at Portland State University in the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government and President Emerita of Winona State University. Dr. Ramaley teaches in the Civic Leadership curriculum at Portland State. Dr. Ramaley holds an appointment as a Distinguished Scholar with the Association of American Colleges and Universities. She chairs the Board of Portland Audubon and the Board of Second Nature, an organization committed to create a healthy, just, and sustainable society through the transformation of higher education. She is also a member of the Portland State University Board of Trustees and chairs the Governance Committee.

Prior to returning to Portland State University, Dr. Ramaley served as President of Winona State University (WSU) in Minnesota from July 2005 to May 2012. She served as a Visiting Senior Scientist at the National Academy of Sciences in the spring of 2005. From 2001-2004, she was Assistant Director, Education and Human Resources Directorate (EHR) at The National Science Foundation (NSF). While serving at NSF, Dr. Ramaley also held a presidential professorship in biomedical sciences at the University of Maine and was a Fellow of the Margaret Chase Smith Center for Public Policy. Dr. Ramaley was President of The University of Vermont (UVM) and Professor of Biology from 1997 to 2001. She was President and Professor of Biology at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon for seven years from 1990-1997. She can be reached at jramaley@pdx.edu.


Byron P. White, PhD has spent his career as a journalist and administrator in academic, corporate, non-profit and public sectors facilitating mutually beneficial engagement between institutions and urban communities. He currently is Associate Provost for Urban Research and Community Engagement at the University of North Carolina Charlotte where he oversees a new office called urbanCORE (Community-Oriented Research and Engagement). Prior to joining UNC Charlotte, Dr. White was Executive Director of StrivePartnership, a Cincinnati-based collective impact organized focused on education improvement for urban learners from cradle to career, and a Vice President for its sponsor organization, KnowledgeWorks Foundation. He previously was Vice President for University Engagement and Chief Diversity Officer at Cleveland State University, where he was responsible for developing and overseeing strategies that advanced civic engagement, workplace engagement, and inclusion and multicultural engagement in collaboration with faculty, students and administrators. Dr. White is a Research Associate at the Kettering Foundation and serves on the Advisory Board of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. He has a doctorate in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania, a master's degree in social science from the University of Chicago, and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Honors Tutorial College at Ohio University.

Senior Advisor


Barbara A. Holland, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized scholar on organizational change in higher education with a focus on community engagement strategies. She has held senior leadership roles at academic institutions in the USA and Australia and was director of the HUD Office of University Partnerships from 2000-2002, and the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse from 2000-2007. She was a founding member on numerous boards of academic associations, initiatives, and journals, including the National Advisory Panel for the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement on which she still serves. She is an active consultant and has advised diverse universities across 6 nations. Current affiliations include Senior Scholar at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the University of North Carolina Greensboro, and Distinguished Professor at the University of Nebraska, home to the Barbara A. Holland Collection for Service Learning and Community Engagement. She is Editor Emerita of Metropolitan Universities journal and Strategic Advisor to the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities. In 2018, CUMU created the Barbara A. Holland Scholar-Administrator Award in her honor. Her current interests include mentoring new scholars, development of a system to monitor and measure community engagement activities. She can be reached at holland.barbaraa@gmail.com.