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"A Miami moment with ... Eric Buller"

03/22/2012

Eric Buller
"A Miami moment with ..." is a Q-and-A column featuring Miami employees.

Eric Buller became director of the Harry T. Wilks Leadership Institute last fall. Prior to his arrival at Miami, he taught three years at West Point and also in the Army ROTC at East Carolina University, after serving 20 years as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army.

He soon will complete a doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Kansas. Buller's research includes the study of persistence using Grit. Learn how Grit is a component of his approach to leadership development.

Q: So, what is this thing called Grit?
A: Grit is a tool that measures a person’s persistence level. Angela Duckworth, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and others developed a short survey based on this character trait. I’m studying whether Grit, as a measure of persistence, can predict academic achievement as compared to other admission indicators. What I am finding is that it does. As director of the Wilks Leadership Institute, I am very interested in developing and assessing activities across campus that could help increase persistence among our students as they maneuver through their academics and learn leadership skills.

Q: What other goals do you have for the Wilks Leadership Institute?
A: First, it’s important to understand the difference between ‘leader’ and ‘leadership’ development. Leader development is planned and structured in a very organized manner and with a specific outcome goal. It is very much individually based. Many programs at Miami focus on the individual as a leader. Leadership development is broader and based on creating a capacity for leadership. For example, it may be developing skills for effective social interaction by learning how to collaborate in a group and speaking your voice. It’s about becoming a positive contributing member of an organization who does not necessarily hold a formal position but can still influence others. Understanding the distinction between the two is critical in setting outcome goals and assigning resources. President Hodge speaks about creating a culture of leadership; this culture will reflect both forms of development.

Q: Will you still continue to offer Scholar Leaders, residence life living learning communities and high school leadership workshops?
A: Absolutely, but we plan to broaden our focus. My charge is to become a conduit between organizations and other Miami leadership institutes. Miami is already recognized for our graduates who display important leadership qualities, but ask us how we do it, and it is difficult to provide a response that represents the entire university.

Q: Have you begun to develop that answer?
A: I have certainly considered it, but recognize that it will take collaboration to better understand and define it. Miami prides itself in being an engaged university and our students are the reason. In fact some students may be over engaged. For me, it is figuring out how to tap into that energy in a meaningful way. That is a good problem to have as opposed to having a campus full of apathetic students. This is where synergy among programs will pay off.

Q: I understand you are involved in a campus organization. Tell us about boxing?
A: Besides family, boxing is my passion outside of work. I boxed as a cadet and then coached at West Point upon my return as a faculty member. I now help coach Miami’s club team. Personally, I love the workout that boxing provides. It also teaches young men and women how to face challenges and to be persistent. Students give it everything they’ve got. In fact, Miami freshman, Anthony Hall, is heading to the collegiate national championships this spring.

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