This month, Michigan Engineering announces three new staff leaders stepping into roles as executive directors for key units.
Rebecca Flintoft will join Michigan Engineering as the Executive Director of the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) on August 1, 2022. Chris LaBelle joined Nexus as Executive Director of Online & Professional Education on April 18, 2022. Kurt Skifstad has been appointed as the Dixon and Carol Doll Executive Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE), joining on April 18, 2022.
“These three leaders are poised to take our already thriving programs to the next level,” said Alec D. Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, the Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and a professor of aerospace engineering. “They will build on successes already achieved, including OSA’s transformation of the C.A.R.E. Center to better serve our students, Nexus’ leadership of multi-modal lifelong learning through the pandemic, and CFE’s consistent top ranking for entrepreneurial programs. People have always been at the center of our strategic planning, and I am energized by the talent that these new leaders bring to Michigan Engineering.”
Get to know these new campus leaders in the Q&A below.
What are you most excited about in your new role?
Flintoft: People. I love building relationships and teams, especially around a shared goal. Getting to know my team, colleagues, the Michigan Engineering culture, and over 11,000 students will be a challenge. But I like solving puzzles, especially the human kind. What makes someone tick? How do we create an environment where every student feels that they belong? How do you get the most satisfaction from a work day? What is the secret sauce to solving a supervision challenge? How can I empower my team to make the most positive impact on students? These are all questions I can’t wait to help solve with my new colleagues at U-M.
LaBelle: First, I’m excited to become a community member of an elite public university like the University of Michigan that can draw on its tremendous resources to pursue socially impactful initiatives on a local and global scale. As I’ve watched how climate change has been impacting water resources, tourism, agriculture, health and migration patterns in Colorado where I currently live, I’ve developed a strong awareness of how integral technology, especially engineering, has become in relation to solving large-scale global challenges.
More locally, I’m thrilled that the College has taken on a leadership role with the new Detroit Center for Innovation. I’m eager to work closely with my new colleagues to support the expansion of educational offerings for that new collaboration, and to leverage our office’s contacts and resources to help create new jobs in the regional workforce.
Skifstad: The CFE has undergone amazing growth and seen impressive national recognition over the past years. We will be celebrating CFE’s 15th anniversary this fall, and I am looking forward to continuing to develop Entrepreneurship at U-M as we evolve and grow the Center to meet the increasing demand for entrepreneurial curriculum and experiences.
Our team provides active learning experiences to all students and faculty within Michigan Engineering and throughout the University that teach the skills to successfully translate ideas into the world. I am eager to connect with the Entrepreneurial and Innovation ecosystem on campus, the U-M alumni network and industry partners, and to build on collaborations with the engineering academic departments and units.
What are you passionate about?
Flintoft: First and foremost, I am passionate about serving others through leadership in higher education. I’m especially passionate about creating communities where all students can thrive. I believe that wellbeing and a sense of belonging are critical foundations for students to unlock their full potential and serve their highest purpose. On the personal side, my spouse and I have two kids, current 5th and 7th graders who keep me focused on what is most important in life.
LaBelle: Because online and continuing education programs have typically focused on the needs of nontraditional students across different modalities, I’ve always been passionate about innovation. More specifically, I’ve been very interested in what types of systems, organizational culture and resources allow and accelerate change and how those changes can support the needs of nontraditional students. In addition to innovation and change management, I’ve always been deeply interested in how online learning differs from face-to-face or residential learning and how the discipline of instructional design informs online and hybrid pedagogy.
I’m an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys downhill skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, fishing, backpacking and hiking. I follow college basketball closely and am excited to attend some University of Michigan football and basketball games.
Skifstad: Starting with founding my first company following graduation and leading that business through international expansion and ultimate sale, entrepreneurship has been my passion for 30 years. My enthusiasm for the opportunities afforded by entrepreneurship education was sparked when I taught an entrepreneurship course for several semesters at U-M in the early 2010s. I love working with talented teams to achieve new things, from the mutual learning that inevitably takes place, to the 1+1=3 dynamic that can happen when you get it right. I get great satisfaction from the “doing” part of teamwork. On a personal note, I love traveling to new places, hanging out Up North with family and friends, making music, and riding my bike.
Give us your overview of how your office serves the Michigan Engineering community.
Flintoft: The departments that make up OSA serve the Michigan Engineering community by engaging students in a caring, inclusive community and connecting them to services to help them succeed. That work is accomplished through recruitment, advising, career services, student organizations and leadership, scholarships, equity-centered work, academic services, the Michigan Engineering Zone, and a variety of student wellbeing, outreach and engagement opportunities.
I always strive to see students as whole people, full of complexity, challenges and opportunities that manifest both in and out of the classroom. Through strategic partnerships and student advocacy, we have the opportunity to help guide each student throughout their campus experience and ultimately achieve their academic and personal goals. In other words, we help change lives!
LaBelle: Although there are many different continuing education resources available to engineers and other professionals, Nexus differentiates itself by drawing on our accomplished faculty and industry partners to develop our online and face-to-face programs. Our office aspires to serve not only Michigan-based engineers but also the larger community of lifelong learners who work beyond our state and national borders.
Because the scope of our activity is so broad and aspires to impact each phase of a professional’s career, we focus on many different domains beyond just classroom- or degree-based learning—what we refer to as the “nexus” or intersection of career advancement, professional networking, social corporate responsibility, and lifelong learning.
Skifstad: CFE’s mission is to inspire and transform the Michigan community into entrepreneurial thinkers and doers. We are an innovation hub where ideas, people, resources and technology meet to create the future. We provide active learning experiences to students and faculty at the University through classes and programs.
We focus on three areas of programming. Our Academic programs offer courses for undergraduate and graduate students aimed at providing broad access to the best entrepreneurship curriculum at Michigan. Our Co-Curricular programs provide entrepreneurial students on campus with immersive experiences, focused training and deep connections to Michigan’s global innovator network. Finally, our Technology Acceleration programs provide experiential education to engineers to enhance deep technical excellence with skills in innovation necessary to see their solutions implemented.
Flintoft holds a master’s degree in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University. She has over 20 years of experience in student affairs, including behavioral intervention and crisis management.
LaBelle received his EdD in Educational Technology from Boise State University and brings 15 years of experience in higher education and online learning. Prior to joining academia, LaBelle began his career developing employee e-learning and onsite training programs for Siemens and Netflix. With LaBelle’s hire, this position also becomes part of the Dean’s Cabinet.
Skifstad is a graduate of Michigan Engineering (BSE CompE ’86, MSE CSE ’87, PhD CSE ’90). He brings more than 25 years of experience leading successful early- and growth-stage companies (including three with roots in university research).