Administrator from South Africa Learns Presidential Skills at Willamette

What does a college president's daily schedule look like? What challenges does a president face? Hellicy Ngambi learned this and more during the past year as she shadowed Willamette President M. Lee Pelton.

Ngambi was an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow, a program that identifies leaders who have the potential to earn top administration positions at colleges or universities. The fellows learn first-hand about the job by observing and working with a university president or other senior officer.

Ngambi currently is executive dean of the College of Economic and Management Sciences at the University of South Africa (UNISA), one of the largest distance education universities in the world. She was the second ACE Fellow to come to Willamette - Dr. Julie Filizetti, former associate provost for academic affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, spent the 2005-06 academic year on campus.

"I was pleased to have the opportunity to work with Hellicy, and I appreciated the insights that she brought to our campus discussions," Pelton says. "The ACE Fellows program is a unique opportunity for future university leaders, and Willamette has been honored to participate."

Pelton attends numerous meetings on and off campus to stay informed on issues and gather others' opinions on the university's direction, Ngambi learned.

"I had de-briefing meetings with Dr. Pelton where we reflected on the decision-making and thinking processes," she says. "We discussed why certain alternatives were preferred and the implications of choices both internally and externally. We discussed issues and challenges of diversity, internationalization, changing demographics, technology and the implication of higher education at the local, regional and global level.

"During the past year, I was exposed to all aspects of a university and of a president's life - his challenges, what keeps him awake at night, what puts a smile on his face. Should I get a position as president, vice president or provost, I am confident that I can excel, whether I'm in South Africa or anywhere."

Ngambi joined the campus at an interesting time - Willamette is in the midst of updating its strategic plan, and is also reacting to an economic downturn that affected universities nationwide.

"I'm so proud to be associated with Willamette," Ngambi says. "When I look at the other universities where my ACE fellow colleagues were assigned, those universities had to make major cuts. They had to freeze salaries, and many people were laid off. But I was at a university that managed its budget well and actually gave an annual salary increase. It takes good leadership to provide a sustainable future like this."

Several Willamette programs were so impressive to Ngambi that she hopes to recreate them in a different form on her home campus. The Centers for Excellence promote interdisciplinary research and learning, something that is sought worldwide, Ngambi says. She also was inspired by Willamette Academy, a college access program for underrepresented middle- and high-school students.

Most ACE fellows from South Africa only shadow an administrator for five weeks, but Ngambi asked the program to allow her to participate for a full year. Pelton supported her request.

"He was open to mentoring me and investing his time in me," Ngambi says. "I always tell people, ‘When you die, people will not remember you by how many degrees you had. They'll remember you by what you did for them.' That is what I have appreciated in Dr. Pelton, that he gave his time to host me throughout the year. I'm grateful to have learned from such a leader, a respected, intelligent visionary who has an international outlook."

For more about the ACE Fellows Program, visit Learn more about Pelton at