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Voinovich Academy arms public leaders with tools to navigate challenges due to COVID-19

While most of America struggled with unprecedented change due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, leaders everywhere scrambled to adjust to a new normal as most of the country’s workforce shifted to remote service for the first time ever. This struggle was particularly apparent to public and community organizations, which were often on the front lines of the pandemic and looking for quick assistance in managing their teams successfully to address the looming public health threat.

Familiar with facing powerful enemies such as the coronavirus, former Marine Colonel Jay Johnson, director of the George V. Voinovich Academy for Excellence in Public Service, is leading the efforts to provide turnkey training for these public servants and leaders. Johnson said his team assessed needs created by the public health crisis to give partners access to resources that would help them deal with the challenge and promote community and economic recovery.

“My philosophy has always been, if you have an opportunity to take action, you should embrace it,” said  Johnson. “At the end of the day, that’s what really matters, and we will remember who was there with us in these times of uncertainty.”

As a signature program of Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, the Academy provides professional and executive education programs to support current and future leaders serving in public and nonprofit organizations. Their team has quickly provided enhanced assistance to public agencies, economic development organizations and local governments in both Central Ohio and the Appalachian Ohio region, through recent additional funding provided from the Ohio state legislature’s biennium budget.

The Academy typically provides customized in-person trainings, and the team evaluated partners’ needs to optimize sessions that would help lead during this national crisis. They immediately worked to enhance their Voinovich Academy website with short, weekly  “Leadership Moments” and remote training opportunities, including a series of relevant and useful micro-learning sessions, which are free and open to all learners.  

These micro-learning sessions, led by Ohio University faculty and executives-in-residence, provide topics such as, “Effective Teamwork for Online Groups,” “Managing Virtual Teams,” and “Succession Planning.” The sessions are responsive to current partner requests and workforce demands and serve to supplement future, more in-depth sessions for program partners.  

Dr. Laura Black, associate professor in the Scripps College of Communication, is leading a few of the micro-sessions. She says effective communication is key to success to keep teams when working remotely.

"This pandemic has created major challenges for our community and highlighted how much we rely on each other. Many of us now need to rely on technology not only for work, but also to stay connected to our colleagues and friends. To help teams be successful, leaders need to develop online communication skills like clearly expressing ideas, collaborating using online tools, and recognizing, managing, and preventing misunderstandings that can occur via technology."

The Voinovich School’s Digital Academy also houses on-demand webinars and quick talks that supplement learning that normally takes place in-person.

“Now more than ever, partnership and collaboration are critical components for success for those leading local governments in our region,” Johnson said. “My team has worked tirelessly to develop practical and innovative solutions as we all work to navigate change in these uncertain times. 

For more information about the George V. Voinovich Academy for Excellence in Public Service, visit For access to virtual content, visit

April 20, 2020
Staff reports