In May, Chautauqua Institution’s Board of Trustees approved the 150 Forward strategic plan, a series of objectives and initiatives to launch the Institution into a renewed future.
Central to the implementation of this plan is Shannon Rozner, the Institution’s new chief of staff and first-ever vice president of strategic initiatives. Rozner, a lawyer by trade, will be working with the administration to ensure the plan moves forward as envisioned by the trustees and fellow Chautauquans.
In her first full season at Chautauqua, it’s a big task — she says she’s ready.
What’s your professional background?
I took a little bit of a winding path to get here. My very first job out of college was as a campus minister in suburban Detroit, and I stayed there for four years. Then I went to law school at the University of California, Berkeley, and from there I practiced law at a law firm in D.C. I did securities enforcement law, which was primarily internal investigations of accounting fraud, so my very first case as a new lawyer was working on the WorldCom internal investigation.
After that, I worked for a regulator for a couple of years, until my financial adviser decided to open up his own firm and asked me to come along and help him run it. So I went over and for five years I founded with him, and helped run, a financial planning practice in suburban D.C.
What was your first experience with Chautauqua Institution?
I went to St. Bonaventure University, so my first experience of Chautauqua was back when I was at Bonaventure. A friend of mine, his parents lived here, and I was able to hear about it from him. I served on a committee for students who were getting an honor’s degree — I was the student representative to that committee — and as a thank-you for my service, my professor took my mom and I to see an opera here.
Then I stayed away for far too long and then came back. When Michael Hill became president, he invited my husband and I to come be his guests; we fell in love with it in about the first hour we got here and stayed on for three weeks that summer, three weeks the following summer and then I took the job in January.
How was the transition to your new job and living at the Institution full-time? Was it difficult coming from a larger, metropolitan city?
No, I love the ability to do my work wherever my work needs me. Sometimes I need to be in the D.C. office because we’re working on building up strategic partnerships as part of our strategic plan … and yet I’m always thrilled to come back here.
I drive — I put an audiobook in and I drive back and forth — and literally, the first moment I see the lake, I can feel myself become calm and full of happiness.
I have two happy places and I’m so lucky to have them.
So you’re spending the off-season in D.C.?
No, I spend most of my time here during the week, and then I drive back there occasionally for work when it needs me.
One of the reasons I’m really proud of the direction we’re going in is because there’s a recognition that we can work wherever the work is. So I would say I spend most weekdays here, on the grounds, and then occasionally I’ll spend a week in D.C.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
My teammates. I’ve never worked with a better group of people who are smarter, more dedicated, more passionate and more mission-driven. It’s exciting to just be with them and watch their brains and their hearts work.
I’m still in that pinch-me phase. … The mission of this place just speaks to my heart so much. … It’s really hard to articulate how special and fortunate I feel to get to work here. I’m old enough that I’ve seen so many people hate their jobs and still get up and go. I recognize how rare and wonderful it is to work with such amazing people doing such important work around a mission I believe in 110 percent.
What are your goals for your first season?
I really hope to get to know people. I want to spend a lot of time — unstructured time — being here and learning more; there’s so much more for me to learn about this place.
So, my goal for this season is to listen a lot, learn a lot, to have a lot of fun, to talk a lot about the strategic plan — I really hope people will be excited about it, and energized by it and engage with me and the rest of the team on it. If I can accomplish these things, it will definitely be a success.
Can you talk about the strategic plan and your role in it?
Our board passed it in May and my job now is to lead the implementation of it; it’s not to implement it, and that’s a really important distinction. This is our plan, this is Chautauqua’s plan; somebody needs to drive the bus and make sure we’re staying on point, we’re following a plan — a process — we’re moving forward.
We’ve never had a vice president of strategic initiatives before, and the whole point was to have somebody who doesn’t have a programmatic responsibility to be able to drive that bus. My job is not to make the decisions, it’s to facilitate the planning around how we’re going to implement this and put tactics around the strategies.
How will the strategic plan be accessible to Chautauquans?
There are listening sessions every week. … They’ll be similar to, if people were here last summer, when we did listening sessions around what should go into the plan. This is a time where we’ll present the plan, we’ll talk about the plan and we’ll hopefully hear people’s thoughts about it and reactions to it.
And then just hopefully, informal conversation. This, to me, is a really exciting plan, and I’ll be surprised if people don’t want to engage about it on their porches and on a bench in the middle of Bestor Plaza. I think people will be talking about it informally, and, like I said, if one of my goals for the summer is just to be here and to be out learning, I hope that I’ll be engaging in some informal conversations with folks, too.
Is there one week or event that you’re particularly excited to experience?
I could not pick a favorite, that’s like asking me to pick my favorite child. That’s what I love about Chautauqua. I’m a person who has a lot of interests; I like to laugh so there’s a comedy week, I like to explore the idea of grace, I like science. There’s no one week in particular for me; they’re all really fun.
How would you describe Chautauqua to other people?
I would tell them it’s a place where seekers come to meet other seekers and to give themselves the time and the space to truly think, feel, play, conserve and engage with themselves and the world in a way that I just don’t think we get to do enough anymore. If that interests you, then you’ll love it here.
The Strategic Plan Informational Sessions will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Thursdays, and IDEA Listening Sessions will be at 3:30 p.m. on varying days. The Master Plan Informational Sessions will be biweekly at 3:30 p.m. on varying days; all platforms will be held in the Hall of Christ. Check the Daily program for specific days and dates.
Additionally, Chautauquans can voice concerns, leave comments or ask questions about the strategic plan through the online forum at 150FWDFeedback.chq.org.