When she began her role as the chief executive of Des Moines University three years ago, Angela Franklin had a walk station installed in her office so that she could burn off calories while catching up on stacks of work-related reading at the end of each day. 

Franklin, an enthusiastic proponent of healthy living, has had walk stations installed in buildings throughout the campus to encourage more physical activity by faculty and students. Additionally, about half the university’s 300 employees now participate in a voluntary wellness program instituted by Franklin that offers monetary rewards for healthy behavior. And Franklin has made DMU one of the few medical schools in the country to offer its future doctors a healthy cooking class. 

Creating a culture of wellness is one of several initiatives Franklin is leading to keep the medical school relevant and engaged. 

“I’m very positive and uplifted about the progress we’ve made as an institution,” she said. “I arrived at a time when we were really at a good point, as a 115-year-old university, to kind of redefine ourself. So we went through a process of looking at who we are as an institution and where we want to go.” That process included creating a new mission statement, along with a strategic planning process for carrying out a renewed vision for the university. 

A key part of the new vision is greater engagement in the community, which is exemplified by DMU’s partnership with UnityPoint Clinics and La Clinica Esperanza that brought the Hispanic-serving clinic onto the university’s campus. DMU has also adopted a new diversity plan that includes a diversity health series to train faculty and students in how to be sensitive to the health care needs of people from other cultures and backgrounds. And under Franklin’s leadership, the university has established the DMU Clinical Collaborative, which includes representatives from each of the Greater Des Moines hospitals as well as some hospitals in surrounding communities to support DMU and its students in real-world training opportunities. 

Franklin is also cognizant of the importance of building and maintaining relationships with DMU’s approximately 12,000 alumni living around the country. Finding there had been little recent engagement with alumni, she last year instituted a medallion ceremony for 25- and 50-year alums during reunion week. “We’ve reaped a lot of benefit from people reconnecting with us and building new engagements with our alumni,” she said. 

As Franklin guides DMU through the sometimes difficult process of change, she’s guided by her philosophy of servant leadership. 

“It comes from growing up with the Golden Rule,” she said. “My parents really believed in treating others the way you’d want to be treated. So I come into any new environment trying to be respectful of the culture I now reside in – listening carefully to try to understand, but at the same time trying to find a way to encourage people to see a different way. A new leader’s job is to raise the bar, raise an awareness so that you continue to have a institution that reinvents itself to stay current.” 

Three areas of influence

Franklin is overseeing significant initiatives at Des Moines University aimed at increasing engagement with the community and its alumni as well as increasing the quality of education of its medical students. 

She is in her second year of chairing the Go Red for Women Luncheon fundraiser for the American Heart Association’s Des Moines affiliate. 

Franklin has been invited to chair the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Run next year, and in the fall will join the board of United Way of Central Iowa.