Syracuse University Assistant Dean Hired as WCER’s Inaugural Chief Operating Officer

Heidi Hart-Gorman will manage daily operations and help execute the center's new strategic plan

March 15, 2022   |   By Karen Rivedal, WCER Communications

Heidi Hart-Gorman has been an assistant finance dean at Syracuse since 2017. She will join WCER in mid-May.

Heidi Hart-Gorman has been an assistant finance dean at Syracuse since 2017. She will join WCER in mid-May.

UW–Madison’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) has chosen Heidi Hart-Gorman of Syracuse University to be the center’s inaugural chief operating officer (COO), after a months-long national search for the best person to help lead WCER during a time of vibrant change.

Hart-Gorman has been assistant dean of finance and administration at Syracuse’s College of Law in central New York since 2017.

“This is the first big hire in what will be a set of hires explicitly designed to execute the new strategic plan,” says WCER Director Courtney Bell, noting Hart-Gorman was the top choice to lead that process as COO due in part to her deep experience in operations, finance, and change management. “She was compelling to everyone.”

Hart-Gorman’s listening skills and analytical approach to problem solving also stood out, Bell says, and no one missed the practical import of her academic preparation. Hart-Gorman earned a master’s degree in social work and an MBA from Boston College–laying a foundation to be a skilled manager of both people and budgets in more than two decades of documented success supporting leaders, colleagues and service staff members in academic, research, and health care settings.

“People really resonated with her range of experience,” Bell adds. “It’s that combination of problem solving and social-emotional connection to people that gives us the confidence she will be able to carry out this new, ambitious work.”

But over her career, Hart-Gorman notes, she has learned lessons from her mistakes as much as from her success.

“I take responsibility when something does not go as planned or desired,” she says. “I make a place at the table for everyone involved, even when that makes it messier and more challenging. I think that is when the best work happens.”

When she arrives in mid-May, Hart-Gorman will be charged with designing internal processes and procedures to achieve efficiency, innovation and excellence, continuing the center’s work since Bell’s arrival in July 2020 of re-envisioning operations toward a culture of outstanding service and support.

An incubator for advances within the School of Education since 1964, WCER generates more than $65 million in awards and services annually. As home to about 140 grant-funded projects and 500 employees, including more than 100 graduate students, it ranks today as one of the largest, oldest and most productive education research centers in the world.

As COO at WCER, Hart-Gorman will oversee daily operations and administration across all service units, with operational responsibility for WCER’s growing staff, national and international programs, and execution of the center’s plans for continued strategic growth.

WCER’s strategic plan, developed with center-wide input during the first 6 months of 2021, sets out specific goals around five areas: improving center services to students, faculty and staff; promoting high-quality, community-connected research; better operating as a learning organization; increasing and diversifying research funding; and improving commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the center’s daily operations.

Hart-Gorman also will oversee a hiring process of several colleagues to help her carry out the center’s strategic plan, partially replacing people lost in layoffs the past few years due to pandemic-related contraction.

“It’s a very big job and she understands that we are in the middle of a lot of change,” says Bell, who will be freed by Hart-Gorman’s hiring to work on other center research development priorities. Those include developing plans to seed collaborative relationships between researchers and community partners in strategic research areas that can attract new sources of external funding. Bell also will focus on supporting diverse PIs in their efforts to seek out new funding sources and integrate fee-for-service and grant-based research.

Prior to her work at Syracuse, Hart-Gorman managed finances, fellowships, hiring, research initiatives and strategic goal setting at Cornell, Harvard and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Before joining academia in 2005, Hart-Gorman was administrative director and a clinical social worker at Harbor Health Services in Boston for 2 years, with 4 years before that as manager and assistant manager at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Le Moyne College in Syracuse in 1996, and she was raised in a small farming town in central New York that she credits with spurring a personal and professional commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion work because it was so homogenous. She says her most successful experiences leading organizational change have come through using the “dual lenses” of DEI and customer service.

Hart-Gorman was one of four semi-finalists selected for on-site interviews and public presentations by the COO Search Committee led by Amber Wilke Fournier, deputy director and COO of WCER’s WIDA. Bell made the final decision to hire Hart-Gorman.