Jenelle Pitt, Ph.D., LPCC, LPC, CRC, NCC

Department Chair and Professor at California State University, Fresno
HERS Institute Alumna, Class of 2020

Dr. Jenelle Pitt is an experienced Clinical Professor with a demonstrated history of strengthening diversity, equity, inclusion, team building, and communication initiatives within her role as a leader in higher education excellence. She received her Ph.D. in Philosophy, with a focus in Rehabilitation Counselor Education, from Michigan State University. She has been at the Fresno campus of California State University since 2009 and has steadily climbed the ranks as a leader in clinical rehabilitation & mental health counseling.

Dr. Pitt is a graduate of the HLI Intensive cohort in July 2020. Within the context of this tumultuous summer, we asked Dr. Pitt which curriculum module stuck out to her the most and armed her with the tools she needed to contribute to or lead campus initiatives that placed her directly in the middle of navigating the dual pandemics COVID-19 and racial injustice.


What brought you to the HERS Leadership Institute (HLI)? Did anyone encourage or support you to apply and attend? 

Yes, I was nominated by a woman administrator and colleague who was mentoring me and is a HERS alumna. I reached out to campus colleagues who are HERS alumnae and shared how impactful the HLI was on their professional growth and career trajectories. I was grateful to be nominated but unsure of myself, questioning whether I have what it takes — fortunately, I proved these fears wrong.


What do you value most from your HLI Experience?

Hands down, the new relationships built are what I value most from the HLI experience. And as a participant of an online cohort, I was amazed at how intentionally the virtual space was leveraged to foster these connections.


As a participant of the June intensive cohort in the summer of 2020, how did the curriculum’s online delivery shape your expectations, overall experience, and ultimately what you gained from the program?

I was both nervous and excited! I think these would have been my initial reactions, whether in person or online. I also wondered how my experience might differ from others before me, who had attended their HLI in-person. I knew it would be essential to maintain a stance of curiosity and openness to online delivery. Doing so allowed me to avoid online versus in-person comparisons and experience the power of what something new could bring! I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly connections were established — thanks to the HERS staff, Facilitators, and technology support.


Of the curriculum modules, which stuck out to you the most and why?

First, let me say that all of the modules were challenging and additive to my learning. The one that stuck out to me was the inclusive leadership module.


“By the time I began the HLI in June 2020, many of us were three months in since the onset of COVID-19. By the time I completed the HLI, we were one month out from the killing of Mr. George Floyd, protests, and racial dialogues that were beginning to emerge at our respective institutions. Additionally, we were less than five months away from the Presidential election. I say all this to underscore the importance of context. Our cohort needed new tools that we could leverage as we returned to our home institutions, and the HLI module on Inclusive Leadership provided that.”


Many of us were being asked to inform or lead initiatives on our campuses that placed us directly in the middle of navigating the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice. And as I reflect on this context juxtaposed with the material and assignments in the Inclusive Leadership module, the expertise of facilitators, our soul-baring discussions, and the resources provided to support these conversations, I can simply things were “on point!”

Differently stated, everything in this module for me was necessary and timely. The module individually and collectively challenged us as a cohort. The HLI created a safe space to question and reflect alongside one another — and share how things were going as we were “trying on” the tools in our respective roles. Learning more about inclusive excellence, institutional narratives and preparing for DEI practices, and readying ourselves to respond to calls to action for racial justice within higher education were very poignant and personal highlights.


What from the curriculum and experience at HERS do you plan on bringing back to your institution and colleagues? 

All of it! I was sponsored by my Dean and supported by my Provost and President. As part of my pre-institute assignments, I interviewed nine academic leaders in various positions on campus. Once I graduated from the HLI, I shared with each of them my sincere gratitude, overall reflections of my experience, goals, and potential areas of campus contribution. I also made it a point to go back and share with the HERS alumna who nominated me and those I had spoken with during my application process. Besides sharing my experience with others, I have leveraged learnings from the HLI to spearhead discussions and new directions in my department and institution. Particularly around teaching, development, strategic planning, community building, and student success using a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens. I have been asked to contribute to leadership and co-leadership roles at the university level around various strategic priority areas. And I have been more agile in moving into different spaces on campus to contribute during this critical time for our institution and higher ed at large.


When you attended the HLI, the year’s theme was Wom*n Leading Across Generations. How relevant have the lessons within this theme been to how you’ve been leading?

These themes have been particularly important and relevant. Who we are and who we are becoming absolutely shapes how we lead. My mentoring of women colleagues has become more active and intentional. I have been initiating conversations with colleagues around aligning formal professional with their goals and interests. I have had the opportunity to support colleagues who have identified leadership training and employment opportunities by providing letters of support, drilling practice questions, reviewing materials, etc. And I nominated three women of color colleagues for various forms of recognition and involvement given their respective leadership contributions.

I have found that creating spaces to check-in with colleagues, mentees, and women leaders has become more critical than ever. As women, our leadership can be intimately intertwined with our desire to serve the common good, which can come at a cost. We have competing demands on our time across the roles (a daughter, professor, mother, partner, board member, etc.) — and spaces (home, work, church, community, etc.) we occupy. Today, our work and home have become converged, and we are being called to chart new ways forward collectively. As such, our encouragement and deliberate support of one another also has to be different and more nuanced.

I have also been reminding myself and other colleagues to define leadership accomplishments across different focus areas — such as crisis management, diversity, equity, inclusion, data-driven decision making, budgets, legal issues, etc. Doing so helps us determine where we might exercise risk and pursue growth opportunities. Additionally, it provides a vivid demonstration and a more comprehensive profile of what we are doing to contribute to the collective lift at our respective institutions of higher education.


How did HERS impact your leadership trajectory?

Drawing from First Lady Michelle Obama, I vividly see ways in which I am still “becoming” me. And I also see how levels of confidence in leading across areas noted above have increased. I have been willing to exercise more risk and willingness to pursue opportunities that have come my way. I have also approached individuals for mentoring and participated in projects that may influence my trajectory. These new activities have led me to initiate dialogue and leverage my voice in spaces where I have sometimes been unsure. The HLI experience inspired me to DREAM BIG and “stand in my power,” as I heard so many times during the program. This advice took root and influenced my new confidence and comfort with where I’ll go next in my career.


How would you define your leadership style?

I would define my leadership style as centered on the promotion of open communication, consultative decision-making processes, and relationship building. I believe that leadership manifests as individuals assume accountability for organizational outcomes and the greater good in service of the mission and collective vision.

I leverage my leadership to create diverse and equitable spaces where all team members are included, supported, and thriving. I am very attuned to aspects of power and privilege and work to realize how language, in particular, can facilitate or pose barriers to processes and outcomes. As a leader, I aim to use language as a bridge to the collective. I model risk and vulnerability and share how assumptions I may have made led me from point A to point B. When this happens, I quickly make amends and reenter deeper levels of consultation through listening and sharing.


How would you describe your cohort of HERS sisters?

Passionate. Capable. Gifted. Responsive. Abundant. I truly felt blessed to know that during my learning evolution at the HLI, I was also establishing lifelong connections with a network of women with whom I would be able to lean on and have lean on me as we moved forward. Our learning alongside one another was invaluable. I can recall moments with each HERS sister. The time spent together was a blessing and needed at that moment in my personal and professional life. Since the HLI, my HERS sisters have remained open to sharing, giving, and holding a space for continued connectedness.


Have you stayed connected to your cohort and the HERS Network at large since you completed the leadership institute?

An alumna of our cohort created a monthly meeting space for us to convene. Several of us have also connected on projects to advance the work we are doing at our respective institutions and support our individual leadership goals. Additionally, I have initiated mentoring with two HERS alumnae, one who served as a Facilitator and another as a Program Associate during my HLI. I like to stay connected by reading the HERS newsletter and attending webinars as well.