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A new paradigm for preparing today’s professionals

New Interprofessional Graduate Certificate in Improvement Science and Implementation promises to help enact organizational change across fields; application opens Sept. 15

Today’s graduates leave colleges and universities and enter an ever-changing workforce, working within and leading organizations that must continuously adapt and improve to better serve the people — patients, students, and clients — who depend on them.  

To meet this need, an interdisciplinary group of faculty and staff across UNC-Chapel Hill, led by Frank A. Daniels Jr. Professor Lora Cohen-Vogel, have launched the Interprofessional Graduate Certificate in Improvement Science and Implementation to equip students and practicing professionals with the knowledge and tools they need for enacting organizational change. 

The certificate program will equip degree-seeking graduate students and non-degree-seeking professionals with evidence-based practices and frameworks to help them build and lead organizations that learn. With endorsements and advisory board leadership from eight professional schools across campus, it offers a new paradigm for preparation in the professions, one that promises to be a powerful driver of organizational improvement for the nation’s schools, hospitals, social service agencies, community clinics, and nonprofits. 

Application for the inaugural cohort opens Sept. 15.

“At its core, the certificate is about building leadership capacity for achieving improvement in systems,” said Cohen-Vogel. “By drawing on insights from organizational studies, healthcare, education, and social work, we explore how to move promising practices and know-how throughout an organization – effectively, how we can achieve improvement equitably at scale.”  

Cohen-Vogel, an education policy researcher, has pursued research and partnerships that seek to better understand continuous improvement practices in schools. Her work has brought continuous improvement practices and mindsets to some of the U.S.’s largest school districts. One of her current collaborations promises to develop and advance continuous improvement approaches in Pitt County Schools in Eastern North Carolina. 

“Whether we work in organizations that teach children, feed families, or provide patient care, those who complete the certificate will know how to help the organizations they lead to get better at getting better,” she said. 

The certificate program blends online asynchronous lessons and 6-8 weekends (Friday evening and Saturday) of face-to-face project-based learning. Students can expect to complete the program in seven months. 

With six core competencies, forming the program, students will learn to: 

  1. Understand the problem 
  2. Derive change ideas from evidence and human-centered design 
  3. Put change ideas into practice 
  4. Set and sustain conditions for change at scale 
  5. Test if change ideas are improvements 
  6. Engage interprofessional networks to accelerate organizational learning 

Already, students and professionals from across Carolina’s campus, representing multiple fields and professional schools, have completed the first course of the certificate program — EDUC 850: “Change Leadership and Systems Improvement.” Read what some of them had to say about how it is already informing their Carolina and professional experiences:

Cari Carson
Doctoral Student in Policy, Leadership, and School Improvement 
UNC School of Education 

“The Change Leadership and Systems Improvement course was powerful, and two aspects, in particular, provided an incredible learning experience. First was the course’s focus on interprofessional teamwork. We worked in small groups across professional fields to identify a problem of practice, to understand the problem in the context of its related systems, to generate possible solutions, and to use a Big Easy framework to select a change idea to implement. Our group had individuals from a variety of graduate programs and professional experiences, and this interdisciplinarity helped us to generate creative solutions to a real-world problem. Second was the focus on leadership, and particularly the need for agile leadership to address complex issues. This and many other concepts of improvement science were new to me, and I have embraced them as I move forward in my studies with an eye toward applying lessons learned in this course to the improvement of special education systems.”

Ashley Tittemore
Director of Institutional Effectiveness 
UNC Adams School of Dentistry 

“Change Leadership and Systems Improvement taught me what it really means to be a learning organization, to see the system that produces the current outcomes, and to constantly be mindful of equity in designing, implementing, and evaluating change for improvement. I learned how to form and lead a diverse and inclusive team focused on improvement, and the importance of defining problems and co-developing solutions with, not for, stakeholders within a community. Overall, the course equipped me with new knowledge and tools to lead change and systems improvement, as well as the space to put this knowledge to practice in an interdisciplinary group of fellow students in preparation for future real-life scenarios. I continue to apply the knowledge and skills I gained to better identify and articulate problems of practice and collaborate with others as I design, implement, and evaluate change for continuous improvement in my work as a leader in institutional effectiveness at UNC.” 

Jane McDaniel
Academic Affairs, Medical Education 
UNC School of Medicine 

“Completing the Change Leadership and Systems Improvement course was a challenging and rewarding experience and one that has had a direct impact on how I approach my work in medical education. I learned that implementing change requires iteration and patience. On the surface, a problem may appear simple to define and solve. However, maintaining an iterative and adaptive mindset allows additional problems to be revealed. From there, changemakers can dive deep into root causes to ensure that proposed changes will solve the actual problem at hand. I utilized methodologies from the course to implement small-scale improvements in my workplace this summer. To enhance the service we provide our students, my team drew on improvement approaches to enhance the quality and efficiency of our workflow and communication processes.” 

Jasmine Johnson
Continuing Education Coordinator 
UNC School of Government 

“The Change Leadership and Systems Improvement course was an extremely empowering academic experience. My ability to identify and communicate the needs of my clients has grown exponentially. I work in continuing education focused on law and finance. I am responsible for helping processes become user-centered, efficient, and reliable. The course gave me new ways to help clients navigate their courses; evidence of this can be seen in client reviews of their experiences, which has empowered my team to keep improving. In the certificate course, there is a palpable environment of encouragement. With the flexibility of the course format, it is ideal for students who are full or part-time employees. With newfound confidence, I recommend this course for those who enjoy collaborating with others.”