After teaching leadership and organizational studies far from home for two years, Dr. Brian Davenport returned to the Pacific Northwest.
“I was an assistant professor at the University of Southern Maine, which was wonderful,” he said. “It was also 3,000 miles from home.
“I hit that space of, ‘I can do what I want to do, or live where I want to live — but not both.’ We made the decision to move back to Spokane.”
While working in the Office of Community Engagement at Eastern Washington University (EWU) for more than five years, Dr. Davenport found his way back to doing what he loves best.
“I convinced the institution we should have a master’s degree in organizational leadership,” he said. “They said, ‘Great. Build it.’ That usually doesn’t happen. The program started last year, and it was super successful. We had more than 100 students our first year.”
Dr. Davenport is now the program director and teaches the Foundations of Leadership and Leadership Capstone courses in the online Master of Science – Organizational Leadership program at EWU.
“It’s the best,” he said. “I love teaching and talking about leadership, but I learn so much from students. I have the approach of, ‘I am not the only knower in the room — we are all knowers with something to offer and something to learn.’ My students continue to impress and amaze me.
“We have some dedicated, talented people in the program…They continue to uncover insights. It’s fairly common when I am grading a paper to say, ‘I never thought of this. I am going to have to do more thinking about this.’ I enjoy that.”
Dr. Davenport, an avid Boston Red Sox fan, is from Phoenix. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and sociology from Whitworth University. He added a master’s degree in secondary education and teaching from Puget Sound University in 2003 and then taught high school social studies for four years.
“I loved teaching, but I didn’t love doing it at the high school level,” he said. “I started looking and thought teaching college was a better route. I landed on leadership.”
Life came full circle for Dr. Davenport when he returned to Whitworth University and became the assistant director for admissions and the Master of Teaching program. Then, six years later, he headed to Maine to teach organizational leadership.
“By nature, leadership is multi-disciplinary in a couple of different ways,” he said. “One, you’re going to lead in a field. You’re going to be an accountant and lead in that field, or a teacher and lead in that field. Wherever you are, right off the bat, leadership is intersecting with your profession.
“The disciplines that help us understand leadership pulls from psychology, sociology, business, philosophy. That multi-disciplinary piece piqued my interest. It allows you to go in different directions to gain an understanding of a complex phenomenon.”
The M.S. in Organizational Leadership online program at EWU hit the ground running when it launched in the fall of 2021.
“It exploded,” he said. “When we mapped it out, we needed to have 40 students by the end of the third year in order to be sustainable. We had 40 students by the end of the third month, which is a good problem to have. Of course, there have also been some growing pains, but we are working on them.”
“I built the course descriptions and learning objectives. Then, I found people to design the classes around those. The quality of the program has less to do with my vision and more to do with the amazing people who are willing to design and teach courses in the program. It’s better than anything I could have imagined.”
Dr. Davenport, who graduated with a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University in 2013, is especially fond of the online teaching experience at EWU.
“This program has national reach,” he said. “A lot of times, my first question in meetings is, ‘What time zone are you in?’
“Several students said, ‘Hey, there’s a hurricane. I can’t turn my paper in.’ That’s reasonable. I say, ‘Go be safe, put plywood on your windows, and don’t worry about whether a paper is on time. It will come in when it comes in.'”
In the brief time the program has been going, Dr. Davenport is already seeing the impact on the students’ lives. He also still works with EWU community engagement occasionally, as his scholarship focuses on the intersection of leadership and community engagement.
“What tends to happen is students who come in already have the technical skills,” he said. “They are established in their fields, but they are recognizing that the things that make them good at whatever they do are not always the same skills necessary to be an effective leader.
“Leading is radically different…Folks are dialed in on their work, but they want those additional leadership skills. Also, a master’s degree helps when applying for other positions in their field. That mid-career working adult is the wheelhouse. That’s who this program is designed for.”
When he isn’t working, Dr. Davenport enjoys spending time with his wife, Nika, and their daughter, Grace (4) and cheering on the Red Sox. He will continue overseeing the growth of the M.S. – Organizational Leadership program.
“You never know what will happen,” he said. “As soon as I moved over to this role, I said, ‘Okay, now what’s my goal?’ That’s how I am wired. My goal is advancing in this position.
“We have different ranks in academia, so it’s finding different ways to move up. This is a sweet gig. It was unexpected, and I’m excited to see where it leads.'”
Learn more about EWU’s online M.S. – Organizational Leadership program.