At the Intersection of Diversity + Inclusion

AACP Article

As an ASAE Diversity Executive Leadership Program (DELP) scholar, Senior Director of Academic Affairs Dr. Cecilia M. Plaza hopes to apply the lessons learned in association management to increasing diversity and inclusion within AACP and ultimately patient care.

By Athena Ponushis

DELP is a two-year program that supports 12 individuals from under-represented identity groups to advance into the ranks of leadership in the association management profession. Plaza is the first pharmacist to ever participate in the program, and she’ll take part in accelerated leadership activities in education, mentoring and volunteer service within the association community.

In the realm of academic affairs at AACP, Plaza oversees curricular and institutional quality improvement, institutional research, assessment and accreditation, and the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. As the director for the Center for the Advancement of Pharmacy Education (CAPE), Plaza led the panel that revised and expanded the educational outcomes by which all pharmacy graduates are educated at colleges and schools of pharmacy in the United States. Currently, Plaza also serves on the ASAE Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

“As pharmacists, we tend to just look at other health associations or other pharmacy organizations, but we really have more in common with other groups than we think,” Plaza says. “That’s the strength this program helps bring: it exposes me purposefully to other associations that are very different in terms of content but not different in terms of best practices and the way things could be done.”

Plaza says she’s honored to have this opportunity to explore the association management side of herself. She’s a firm believer that we should celebrate what we have in common just as we celebrate what makes us different. Here, she opens up about what she’s learning, where she’s going and what she hopes to bring back to AACP and its members.

What about the program drew you to apply?

I saw a post about it on Twitter and I thought, “This sounds interesting, let me learn more.” And the more I read about it, the more I was drawn to it. The Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau has sponsored this for 17 years with unwavering support, and along with ASAE, they have a genuine commitment to diversity. The groups they included really spoke to me—under-represented minorities, LGBT and/or the disabled—and the fact that they were so inclusive in their call really spoke to me because I think all those groups play an important role.

As a DELP scholar, ASAE says you will participate in an accelerated leadership program of education, mentoring and volunteer service. What has that entailed thus far?

During my scholarship period, I will attend two ASAE annual meetings. I went to my first one in August in Toronto and I’m able to choose another ASAE meeting to attend each year of my fellowship. I’ll be traveling to Colorado in March for the ASAE Great Ideas Conference, learning about different brainstorming techniques and how to think outside the box with regard to association management. Next year, they will send me to the ASAE Volunteer Retreat, where I will be able to interact with board members and leaders of various committees. It’s a great opportunity to learn from them and help direct the future of ASAE, which affects all of us because associations touch every aspect of your life, whether people recognize it or not. Associations have a hand in the things you do every day.

What have you learned from your fellow scholars and what do you hope they learn from you?

What’s unique about this program is that I’m in a class of 12, but for the rest of the time you are in nonprofit association management, you’re invited to a DELP reunion in Detroit, so you get really embedded with the alums. You can be as close to them as you are to the members of your own class. I’ve learned how to approach networking a bit differently, how to be a better leader, and am learning from those who have taken that step and become executive directors. I’m continuously asking “what are the struggles, what are the challenges, but also, what are the rewards?” Just having discussions about association management and being able to bounce ideas off people who really care about each other is amazing. The phrase I kept hearing repeatedly in Detroit was, “Welcome to the family.”

Cecilia M. PlazaAs pharmacists, we tend to just look at other health associations or other pharmacy organizations, but we really have more in common with other groups than we think.

Dr. Cecilia M. Plaza

What have been some of the most impactful takeaways you’ve learned thus far?

I’m a big proponent of diversity and inclusion, but I think this program takes it to a new level. I’m seeing how this program has really effected change and how everybody succeeds when there’s more diversity of all types, especially in leadership. Seeing someone who might look like you in a position of power is incredible. It gives you the sense of, “I can do that.” It’s really solidified my commitment to working on diversity and inclusion efforts.

Describing the DELP program, ASAE says today’s leaders need to bring a wide variety of professional and personal experience to the table. What do you bring and what do you hope others will take away from you?

I think the greatest gift you can give to any other human being is meeting them where they’re at. Making people feel welcome and appreciated is something I try to model in my own life personally and professionally. Also, paying it forward when someone has done something for you. 

Life can be challenging at times, whether it’s from physical challenges or other tests. But you must try to take life with a sense of humor, as best you can, and continue to persevere. That’s something I feel pretty passionate about as well.

What would you like AACP members to know most about this ASAE opportunity?

AACP has a commitment to strengthening cultural competency and this really puts it in perspective. It’s not just words, it’s action. I think this program is going to help our members, and that’s why you have associations--to help members. I hope to bring back all I learn, not only in the area of cultural competency, but also in other areas of association management, to help our members. 

How will this fellowship impact your work at AACP and benefit members?

There are so many things I can continue to bring back to the Association. I think bringing these concepts of increasing diversity and working toward inclusion is obvious, but also just being aware of the tools and resources they offer that could potentially impact some of the things that we do. 

One thing we learned at our DELP orientation is that when people apply to be candidates for the ASAE board of directors, they have to write essays that address how they’ve affected diversity and inclusion issues. That’s not only a core value of ASAE, but it’s part of their strategic plan, so it permeates literally everything they do. Seeing that model and their commitment is really powerful. I hope to bring some of those practices into our Association.

What has not been said about cultural competency that you would like to see in print?

With regard to diversity and inclusion, the message that has really resonated with me is: the folks are out there, and sometimes they just need to be identified or encouraged, but that it’s worth it. There’s a solid business case for increasing diversity. Experience improves not only everyone’s ability to do their work but also the bottom line. It’s so important to be exposed to people who might be different than you, because in the case of my Association, it produces better pharmacists, it makes for better faculty, and ultimately translates into practitioners who are able to provide better care.

Athena Ponushis is a freelance writer based in
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.