When interviewing a seasoned academic like Dr. Denise Shelley-Newnham, one expects to talk about a career in academics, but the path that lead Denise to Glion wasn’t a straight line at all.

It all started off like a standard faculty profile, we briefly talked about her work in change management research and the new teaching methodology she’s using in class (and we’ll come back to that later), but the discussion veered off course when it came to her life before Glion.

What did you do before coming to Glion?

“Where to start? Before coming to Glion, I was living in the Valais, I was working as a photographer and a musician, I play the oboe and saxophone and I was playing in the jazz band in Sion. At the time, I realized that I needed to find something more substantial as a professional and I applied for a teaching position at Les Roches Bluche, and began as a professor in photography, I went on teaching General Education there for 5 years.

Then, I resigned and worked on a research project in Botswana for the University of Helsinki for 5 years, running a research project in the South African Development Community (SADC) region which included Mauritius, South Africa, and Botswana. I was working on change laboratories to introduce the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for education there, so I was travelling between the UK, Switzerland and Africa, while completing my PhD.

Then, I moved to Montreux for family reasons and my children went to university, I have four children. So I applied at Glion and by that time I was teaching leadership. I’m actually an Cultural Historical Activity Theorist, which includes concepts taken from the fields of educational anthropology, philosophy and psychology, it’s about developmental psychology. At the same time I was working at the University of Geneva as a lecturer.”

And where are you from originally?

“I’m originally from South Africa. I came here for a sky diving competition and I stayed because I met my husband and we set up house in Sion. I am also a long-distance mountain runner, so I was very focused on sport and my husband and I were into mountaineering, so we climbed a lot of peaks in Switzerland.”

Really, you have four children?

“Yes, I have four children and they are great. My son is 28 and he is at university in St Gallen, finishing his Masters and going to do a PhD; I have a daughter who is 26 and studying design, she’s a ceramist, my second daughter is 22 studying in med school in Lausanne, and my youngest daughter is in environmental studies at the University of Lausanne, she also created the Foundation YASWE (youth action for sustainable water and environment) as Abi is a Representative of European Youth for the World Water Parliament. It’s amazing, I helped her to set up this foundation and now she’s looking at getting funding.”

So, why do you like working at Glion?

“I’ve been working with Glion for about 4 years now, first part time and then full-time for a year and a half now. I really like the culture and the diversity. I like the students, the diversity of students is very nice to work with so many nationalities, for someone like me who is into education and anthropology the environment here at Glion is very interesting and the staff are also very nice, very diverse. And now I’m actually teaching the topics related to my background and my research, organizational change through development, so that’s very fulfilling.

I’ve worked with young people in many different countries and different situations, from children in refugee camps and developing nations to here in Switzerland. What strikes me is that all young people face insecurities and we all have vulnerabilities. These students may have all of the material things they need or want, but we all still have the same need for encouragement and connections on a human level. That’s one reason I find private education satisfying, we have a more personalized approach and we take care of the individuals, if we didn’t treat them as individuals we would be losing one of the best aspects of private education.”

Where are you at with your research and publications?

“Currently, I work with a methodology called the change laboratory, a theoretical method devised by Yrjö Engeström from Helsinki. It’s based on the works of Russian psychologists about how to transform organizations, about how people redesign their organizations that are having problems, involving the people at all levels of the organization. There are lots of methods for inducing and managing change, but this method is develomental. It’s about how people change, mentally and behaviorally due to their shift of how they make sense of things. Vygotsky says you have to put the right artifacts in place, so to create those artifacts we make small clips (video) about the small things and events that aren’t working and these clips impact the way people see their work, it helps people to realize and analyze what needs to change. We take them through an analytical phase, a redesign phase, a test phase and an implementation phase.

Overall, my research is centered on two types of organizations: organizations working with refugee populations in CH and educational institutions. At the moment I’m in the publication phase, one piece is pending publication with the University of Geneva, and it’s a long process, a ton of work, and I have a conference coming up. Plus, I have four other articles that are going to be published pending revisions.”

How do you bring your change management research and knowledge into the classroom?

“I’ve introduced SCRUM in my Change Management class and Leading Organizational Change class. The SCRUM is based on an autonomous learning system, students are in charge of their learning.

Using this method, I provide them with different change models, they have to create a hypothetical case study and the group needs to think of a new design and they have to choose one change method and then they have a first sprint ( a mock board meeting, they discuss and offer feedback and critique), then they need to choose another change model that will rectify the problems in the first model, and then in a second sprint they have to present their solution in a poster and write up a final summary of all four change models to compare weaknesses and strengths.

At the same time, they have to use the change laboratory Expansive Learning Cycle which is a developmental cycle, so they have to work through the questioning phase, analytical phase, etc. and they have to evaluate how difficult it will be to get to the next phase.”

Dr. Denise Shelley-Newnham teaches Leading Organizational Change (MBA2), Change Management (Undergraduate Semester 6), Research Methods (Semester 7), Business Research Methods (MBA1) and she acts as the dissertation lead for the Master’s programs. She holds a PhD, University of Bath, UK, 2012; an MPhil, University of Bath, UK, 2007; a Masters in Educational Science, Unimail University of Geneva, Switzerland, 2005; a BA (Hons.) in Educational Anthropology, UNISA, 2003; and a BA in Psychology, Anthropology and English Analysis, UNISA, 2001.

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Glion Institute of Higher Education
Glion Institute of Higher Education is a private Swiss institution offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in hospitality, luxury and event management to an international student body across three campuses in Switzerland and London, UK.
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