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‘Driving Change’ panel: Vieth a ‘boundary spanner’

“We talk about how it often takes collective action to make a real shift,” said Merrie Benasutti.

Vieth saw a deficiency in how society tries to help and protect children and did something about it.
MinnPost photo by Gregg Aamot

MinnPost has assembled a panel of leadership experts and scholars, who are rotating in commenting on each of the examples of leadership profiled in our series, “Driving Change: A Lens on Leadership.” Today, educators and a student from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Integrative Leadership comment on aspects of leadership presented in “The Advocate: Victor Vieth and the fight to end child abuse.”

For students and educators involved with a leadership team at the University of Minnesota, the most impressive part of Victor Vieth’s work may be his willingness to tap the expertise of others in an effort to find an answer to a national problem: child abuse.

As executive director of the National Child Protection Training Center (NCPTC), Vieth works with experts from around the country to craft curricula that colleges and universities can use in courses that span disciplines – from nursing to social work to law enforcement.

Merrie Benasutti
Merrie Benasutti

“We talk about how it often takes collective action to make a real shift,” said Merrie Benasutti, the associate director of student initiatives at the Center for Integrative Leadership at the university’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Of Vieth, she said: “He’s a boundary spanner.”

Partners with other centers

Vieth, of Winona, has emerged as a leading national expert on the prevention of child abuse, particularly child sexual abuse. A former small-town prosecutor, he runs the NCPTC – where both students and professionals study and train – and travels to conferences and workshops across the country. The NCPTC, housed at Winona State University, recently partnered with similar training centers in Colombia and Japan. The center’s curriculum has, so far, been adopted by 27 colleges and universities across the country.

Leah Lundquist
Leah Lundquist

Benasutti, Leah Lundquist, a program manager at the Center for Integrative Leadership, and John Nelson, a student at the center, reflected on MinnPost’s profile of Vieth, who was recently recognized by a national child advocacy center for his work.

Nelson, a nurse who is studying for a Ph.D., was impressed with the broad reach of the NCTPC, which educates students and professionals in many aspects of child protection – from recognizing emotional trauma to perfecting interview techniques.

In health care, for instance, “we don’t always look at these other things that are occurring,” said Nelson, who worked as a staff nurse for 11 years and is one of a dozen students chosen for a student leadership team within the CIL. “We often think so much in fragments rather than in wholes.”

He added: “We get patients back to health and then we send them back to a vulnerable situation. And then they come back.”

Center opened in 2003

Vieth decided to devote his life to child-abuse prevention while working, two decades ago, as an assistant county attorney in southern Minnesota, where he realized the myriad problems in prosecuting child abusers, such as getting young victims to talk to investigators. He came up with the idea for the training center in discussions with administrators at Winona State – his alma mater – and the center opened in 2003.

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Vieth relies on many experts in developing curricula and training initiatives. Moreover, the NCPTC keeps a roster of expert speakers that it can offer up to conferences and workshops across the country. They include prosecutors, forensic interviewers, professors, psychologists and police officers.

The CIL looks at just such cross-sector leadership and is designed to help students across disciplines think about the nature of leadership, how it has changed and how it is currently practiced in many fields. The students on the leadership team represent six different areas from the university: the Carlson School of Management; the College of Education and Human Development; the Humphrey School of Public Affairs; the Law School; the School of Public Health; and the School of Nursing.

Saw a deficiency and did something about it

Benasutti noted how leadership is often about “someone stepping forward and doing something courageous” – not about knights riding in on white horses. In Vieth’s case, he saw a deficiency in how society tries to help and protect children and did something about it, Benasutti said.

Nelson said that Vieth “seems to be articulating a need” – a communication skill that can set a strong leader apart. “A natural leader not only reads the lay of the land and sees the need for something new, but also articulates a strategy and puts people in their proper niche,” he said.

Lundquist said she sees similarities in Vieth’s work and contemporary work on exposing and curbing sex trafficking in Minnesota. In both cases, several sectors need to play a role in pushing for change – law enforcement, health workers, etc.

“He’s a boundary crosser,” she said of Vieth. “You need those kinds of leaders in every sector to build a healthy system.”

She added: “I like to think of the act of leadership rather than a set of characteristics that define a leader.”