The first step, alumnus John Hawley said, is to admit that most of your meetings are terrible. They’re too long, too boring, too unproductive.

But he can change that.

After graduating in 2009, Hawley, a member of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets who majored in building construction, served 11 years in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear surface warfare officer. It was during this time that he immersed himself in a raft of professional development classes on creative problem-solving, design thinking, leadership, and facilitation.

At the urging of a three-star admiral, Hawley turned the nuggets he’d gleaned from these classes into a unique sailor-to-sailor training series sponsored by U.S. Fleet Forces Command. What resulted was the illuminate Thinkshop, a series of workshops designed to help service members enhance their problem-solving skills and expand their ability to turn innovative ideas into actionable solutions.

“The goal was to help participants shrug off the weight of bureaucracy so they could focus and excel in problem-solving and process improvement,” Hawley said. “Facilitation, really, is the human element of everything. It’s the ability to guide effective group work and a way to help people move forward.”

Hawley estimated that he’s facilitated more than 600 workshops in the past 10 years. Now transitioned from the military, he continues to take what he’s learned about team-building and process improvement into the private sector.

He and the company he co-founded, Stale Chips, are partnering with the Virginia Tech Newport News Center to present a series of workshops to help people facilitate better meetings by becoming experts in guiding innovation and change.

“John Hawley is just so proud of Virginia Tech,” said Mallory Tuttle, associate director of the center who is organizing the workshops. “When you add to that his expert knowledge about how to design productive and inspirational meetings and his ability to connect with participants, you have the ingredients for an exceptional professional development experience.”

The center is offering two tracks: a one-day workshop Sept. 6 focusing on “How to Facilitate Most Things” and a three-day workshop Sept. 19-21 on “How to Facilitate Anything.” Both will be held at the Newport News Center, 700 Tech Center Parkway, and both are eligible for continuing education units from Continuing and Professional Education.

The one-day workshop will give participants all the best tools a facilitator needs to help solve any problem — just a bite of the best bits of a cinnamon roll, Hawley said. By contrast, the three-day workshop will teach participants how to bake their own cinnamon rolls, so to speak. As opposed to just introducing the tools, these sessions will explain all the factors that go into creating effective workshops: building an agenda, managing the personalities in the room, and determining what to do after the workshop.

“Virginia Tech is dedicated to making educational and experiential opportunities accessible to the broadest possible range of participants throughout our commonwealth and beyond,” Tuttle said. “Through programs and workshops like this, the Newport News Center aims to extend professional development, career advancement, and personal growth opportunities to the residents of the communities we serve.”

One of Virginia Tech’s Commonwealth Campus Centers, the Newport News Center cultivates community relationships, engages in regional collaboration efforts, and provides learning experiences to professionals in the Hampton Roads region and beyond. The university has similar centers in Abingdon, Richmond, and Roanoke, all part of Outreach and International Affairs.


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