Last year, Winifred White Neisser was thinking about a career change when the longtime television executive heard about a Harvard program that could help her chart a new path.
Neisser enrolled in the Advanced Leadership Initiative (ALI), a fellowship that helps professionals transition to new careers aimed at solving societal problems. Starting with 13 fellows in 2009, ALI has grown steadily, with 43 in the current crop and 48 in the cohort that starts later this month.
“I’ve always had a real love for the University,” said Neisser ’74, a former member of the Board of Overseers. “So the idea of coming back to Cambridge and spending time trying to figure out my next chapter was very appealing.”
Neisser plans to work on expanding arts education for public school students in Los Angeles.
‘ALI is an open window on the world, a journey to widen our horizon and address issues with new eyes.’ — Nouzha Chekrouni, ALI fellow
The fellowship offers access to courses across Harvard, in business, education, government, law, public health, and medicine. Fellows range from corporate executives to heads of nonprofits.
Participants each identify a challenging societal issue and develop a plan to help solve it. They also take a leadership course, attend “think tank” sessions, and have full access to other University resources, including the opportunity to audit classes. Final plans are presented at a November symposium.
Neisser, who spent 34 years as an executive with NBC and Sony Pictures Television, said she selected arts education for her project because of discussion she heard during the fellowship about “21st-century skills and the need to provide opportunities for kids to be creative and innovative.”
“We saw the opportunity to help the University engage with society, and with big societal problems, which Harvard increasingly wanted to do as One Harvard,” said Kanter, who is the chair and director of the program. “The problems themselves seemed to be more abundant, or at least more visible, and tended to have a cross-disciplinary character.”
The idea, she said, was to enlist “a whole new population of people with leadership skills and experience … who could work on those problems and start by engaging with Harvard.”
Charles M. Fleischman ’80, another member of this year’s group, co-founded and served for 16 years as president of Digene Corp., the biotechnology company that established the link between the HPV virus and cervical cancer.
“I thought it was the kind of thing I would find challenging and fulfilling,” he said.
His wife, Lisa Claudy Fleischman ’80, joined him as an Advanced Leadership Partner, a designation offered to partners who want to access University resources during the fellowship year.
For his project, Fleischman this fall helped forge a coalition among Native American tribes and other groups opposing a proposed development project that includes a tramway from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the bottom. A longtime river-rafting enthusiast, Fleischman has led rafting trips at the Grand Canyon for 20 years.