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Neal Sales-Griffin: Linking Learning and Organizational Change to Student Government

Neal Sales-Griffin, a SESP senior who is president of Associated Student Government at Northwestern, walks out of his learning and organizational change classes at Annenberg Hall and heads straight over to Norris Center to put what he’s learned into action.

“It’s the best learning experience one could ask for,” he says. “That’s what makes it so much fun. Any class I take, I’m smiling, paying attention and thinking of how I can apply what I’m learning.”

“The biggest take-away is the mindset and approach,” he comments. His classes have trained him to always look at root causes as well as to understand the importance of the culture within an organization. “LOC provides you with a way of looking at an organization through a multitude of lenses to decide on the best path going forward.”

Looking back on his action-packed term as president, he sees his biggest accomplishment as restructuring ASG so it could have the capacity to provide the services students need and be more conducive to collaboration. “A lot of that was based on my education here,” he notes. “That’s shaped my way of thinking when it comes to organizations and structure.”

Specifically, he has worked at reshaping the organizational culture to become more action-oriented and forward-thinking. He has also focused on making the organization function as a team since, compared to past presidents, he views his leadership style as “enabling others.” He says, “Those changes are what mattered, especially instilling passion, leadership and a strong culture.”

To effect change at ASG, Sales-Griffin has been able to draw on different frameworks, models and case studies he has studied through his learning and organization major. “I’ve also been able to reach out to former professors with questions about structure and management,” he says. His mentors include instructors Gail Berger and Eric Hoernemann.

An advocate of LOC, he has introduced several other students to the program. “What psychology is to human beings, LOC is to organizations,” he says. “You are able to analyze, organize, articulate as well as act on the root causes in organizations and improve them.”

One of the reasons Sales-Griffin decided to run for ASG president was that as a senator he hadn’t felt he had the capacity to contribute changes. His run for president was nontraditional in the sense that it was based not on promises to accomplish things but on a platform of creating the organizational capacity to hear students’ concerns, he says. “The first order of business was organizational change.”

While his main efforts have focused on restructuring, during his tenure as president ASG has also made other advances. Most notably, the organization has championed minority enrollment and improved student services such as the peer academic system and off-campus housing evaluations.

Diversity is an issue that especially resonates with him. “I think diversity is one of the strong tools for innovation in any group,” he says, noting how diversity has contributed to accomplishments at SESP “It would be great for diversity to permeate throughout the university.”

Beyond diversity, Sales-Griffin has goals for inclusiveness. “We want to develop a common experience at Northwestern.” Through the One Northwestern project, ASG is surveying students with “tough questions” about how to ensure students choose Northwestern and how to create a feeling of family.

Despite the challenges and controversies he has faced, he remains energetic and purposeful. “I’m an eternal optimist,” he says with a smile. He looks to the future with an emphasis on sustainability, and he’d like to see more people getting involved in ASG.

After he turns the reins over to the next president in April, he’ll be satisfied that he has made a difference. Then he can move on to his next challenges, which will likely be in the area of entrepreneurship. “My passion is entrepreneurship,” says Sales-Griffin, who started two companies while in college. He also worked at a venture capital firm two days a week while he was taking a full load of classes and serving as student body president.

Undoubtedly he’ll still be smiling as he applies what he has learned from both LOC and ASG to his future career.

by Marilyn Sherman

Updated January 8, 2009

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