Priscilla Fiden, 'a remarkable citizen of Stanford,' wins Amy J. Blue Award
Fiden, the assistant dean for administrative operations at the Graduate School of Education, inspires staff to make their "A game" even better.
When Priscilla J. Fiden became the student services manager in the Department of Psychology in 2004, she discovered work she loved – supporting and advocating for students – so they would be free to concentrate on their studies and research.
“I felt like I was contributing, even though I wasn’t their teacher and I wasn’t their adviser,” she said. “That was where I started to see how important the roles of staff are at the university. I could have stayed there forever.”
But when the position of department manager opened up, Ian Gotlib, a professor of psychology who is now the department chair, encouraged Fiden to apply.
“I never would have taken that job – never in a million years – if he hadn’t pushed me toward it,” Fiden said. “He, and others like psychology Professor Brian Wandell, saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself and encouraged me to go for it. They also knew that if I had the right people around me I could do the job. They believed in me more than I believed in myself.”
As department manager, she directly managed 21 people, including staff members responsible for finance, information technology and human subjects research.
“It was Management 101 on the job,” Fiden said. “I could not be doing what I’m doing now without that experience. I learned so much about people. I learned so much about Stanford. It really gave me a good sense of how the university works.”
In 2009, Fiden moved to the Graduate School of Education (GSE), where she directed academic service administration for the school’s undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs, including admissions, degree progress and career services.
In the summer of 2013, she became assistant dean for administrative operations at the GSE. In that role, she oversees administrators responsible for faculty affairs, facilities, human resources and administrative support.
Fiden is one of this year’s recipients of the Amy J. Blue Award, which honors staff members who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work.
President John Hennessy will present the Amy J. Blue Awards at a May 13 ceremony and reception, which will take place at 4 p.m. in the Koret-Taube Conference Center at the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Building, located at 366 Galvez Street.
Creating a community at the GSE
The Graduate School of Education building, which is located on Lasuen Mall just off the Main Quad, houses the dean’s office and offices for faculty and staff. The rest of its family of faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and staff work in five other buildings scattered across campus.
Some work next door, at the Barnum Center, home of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, among other groups. Others work nearby in the CERAS Building (Center for Educational Research at Stanford). And still others can be found in Wallenberg Hall in the Main Quad, in Littlefield Center near the Oval, and in Cordura Hall, located at the end of Panama Street near Campus Drive West.
“Part of my role is to try to bring people together and make them feel they’re part of this community,” Fiden said. “That’s really a challenge when we’re spread so far apart. By bringing people together on a regular basis and helping them get to know one another and learn about their work, we can strengthen the GSE’s sense of community and common identity.”
One recent event people are still talking about was last summer’s pancake breakfast, which was held in an outdoor courtyard – the GSE rented two huge grills for the event – and attracted about 80 staff, faculty and students.
“Our idea was that the deans would serve breakfast to the community to welcome them back for the autumn quarter,” Fiden said. “I ordered aprons and chef hats for the deans to wear. Whenever we can invite everyone to come together, it’s a really special moment.”
Last summer, Fiden organized a backpack drive for students in East Palo Alto, in partnership with a local nonprofit organization. Her office was soon filled with stacks of supplies and backpacks.
“We had a backpack stuffing party and it was a great event,” she said. “We provided about 100 backpacks to students in East Palo Alto. That was a rewarding project, because it was related to our mission. It also was a way to bring our faculty, staff and students together and have people feel good about their contributions.”
In addition to fostering a sense of community, Fiden also is committed to offering professional development opportunities to staff.
She recently invited Rachel Lotan, a professor (teaching) of education, emerita, to give a talk about giving and receiving feedback, to help staff prepare for their first half-year reviews under the new Performance Management@Stanford program.
“We wrote up a couple cases that we gave to people who participated,” she said. “We did a lot role-playing. It was really gratifying to partner with an expert and see how we could apply her advice in a staff setting. Direct access to faculty is one of the highlights of working here at Stanford, and I feel fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to connect staff and faculty on overlapping topics of interest.”
Fiden, who earned a master’s degree in humanities at the University of Chicago in 2002, lives with her husband, Dan Fiden, and two rescue English bulldogs, Merle and Clementine, in Half Moon Bay.
Five years ago, Fiden, an avid runner, organized a small group of GSE runners to take part in Summer Scamper, a 5K and 10K fundraiser for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Their ranks have grown over the years, and this year, 20 people, including faculty, staff, students and postdocs, will take part in the June 21 event.
“Some people walk,” she said. “Some people bring their kids and push strollers. Some of us are competitive, and we tease and taunt each other endlessly in the months before the run about the time to beat.”
Committed to people
Steve Olson, the GSE’s senior associate dean for finance and administration and Fiden’s boss, described her as “a razor-sharp thinker, creative problem solver, outstanding manager and extraordinarily reliable and productive colleague,” in a letter nominating her for the Amy J. Blue Award.
“In less than two years in her new role, Priscilla has already launched a Healthy GSE initiative, which is being used as a model for other university units, created an extremely well-received GSE new employee orientation and on-boarding process, and has fostered an environment of feedback, coaching and focus on career trajectory,” he wrote.
“Priscilla embodies the spirit of Amy Blue; someone who raises the positive energy and aspirations of those around her. In addition to the very serious and important work she does for the school, she also finds time to coordinate networking sessions, create a school running club, and even organize a school-wide pancake breakfast,” he wrote.
When she first arrived at the GSE in 2009, Fiden reported to Eamonn Callan, the associate dean for student affairs and the Pigott Family School of Education Professor at the GSE. In a nominating letter, Callan wrote that Fiden possesses a cluster of rare and precious qualities that make her an extraordinary person.
“First, even when work is at its most onerous and stressful, Priscilla brings a spirit of joy and humor to the task at hand that is downright infectious,” Callan wrote.
“Second, she approaches her role with an imagination and an openness to creative change that is extraordinary. As assistant dean of academic services, she didn’t care where good ideas came from – whether they were her own, mine or a student’s. If they could make our processes and procedures work better without undue cost, then she wanted to act on them, as soon as possible.”
Callan described her as “a remarkable citizen of Stanford.”
Shu-Ling Chen, assistant dean and director of academic services at the GSE, said Fiden is – first and foremost – committed to people.
“She constantly works to identify talented staff and hire them into Stanford,” Chen wrote in a nominating letter. “She truly enjoys meeting with people to ascertain what their interests and strengths are, and to provide them with helpful career or job search advice. She never hesitates to use her vast network to connect people with opportunities. Just as important, she pays a lot of attention to the professional development of the staff members who are hired.”
Jonathan Rabinovitz, chief communications officer at the GSE, said Fiden inspires the belief that work can be meaningful and fun. As examples, he pointed to the backpack drive and other volunteer projects that she has organized, as well as her efforts to encourage staff to adopt healthier habits.
“She has been a trailblazer in encouraging staff to exercise, to take advantage of Stanford’s Health Improvement Program and to eat more healthy food,” Rabinovitz said. “She has tried to get more fruits and veggies into school events. Though she hasn’t banished pastries for those of us who are sugar addicts, she just slices them into smaller pieces!”
In another nominating letter, Nereyda Salinas, director of Stanford EdCareers, the GSE’s career resources center, said Fiden’s “spirit of continuous improvement and clear communication” has been felt throughout the institution.
“She models for all staff how to best serve the school and the university and how to think creatively in addressing issues,” Salinas wrote. “She listens to individual needs and is instrumental in assisting a variety of school and university senior leaders in addressing them. She inspires the rest of the GSE staff to make our ‘A game’ even better for the sake of stewarding Stanford’s resources to the best of one’s ability.”