Leadership Profile: Dima Tawakkol

Dima wearing a navy blue quarter zip with a maize block M
Dima Tawakkol, director of academic applications and classroom technology services within Health Information Technology & Services

What is your official title, and what does that mean about what you actually do?

I am the Director of Academic Applications and Classroom Technology Services within Health Information Technology & Services (HITS). We are dedicated to serving the needs of various segments of the medical school community. My role encompasses diverse responsibilities, from managing comprehensive clinical trial management systems within Michigan Medicine to supporting all the educational needs of undergraduates, graduates, postdocs, and fellows. Over the past two years, we’ve expanded our services and launched Classroom Technology Services, a specialized group for supporting faculty and students in the classroom. I am incredibly fortunate to lead such a dedicated team within HITS. The individuals I work with are exceptionally skilled and deeply committed to providing exemplary customer service. Ultimately, our primary objective is to empower the Medical School by ensuring they have the technological support needed to achieve remarkable feats in healthcare.

What path did you take to your current role?

After completing my Master’s in Information Systems, I worked in multiple industries in corporate America. In 2007, I joined the University of Michigan as a project manager. I worked in project management for over 11 years, including four years as the Director of the PMO in Information and Technology Services (ITS). After all those years in project management, I was ready for something completely different and new. Now, I am focused on research and education in HITS and my responsibilities are managing applications and classroom services. 

Starting this new role was exciting because I needed to learn all about research and clinical trials, a new set of terminology, and, most importantly, how to best engage with students, faculty, researchers, and study teams. Luckily, I was able to build on the skills I had before. I believed in myself and what I could accomplish and knew I could take anything on with the right mindset. I approached everything new as a growth opportunity. 

Do you miss anything about project management?

My background in project management has shaped how I approach my current role. The skills I gained there, especially in leading teams, have been invaluable. In project management, you must be creative in motivating teams because they don’t directly report to you. That skill has been crucial in understanding and working effectively in my current role. I’ve learned to listen and understand different perspectives, especially from faculty and researchers with unique priorities and ways of thinking.

I enjoyed the constant change in project management. Moving from one project to another kept things dynamic. However, now I have a solid team to work with, a supportive leadership team, and a different set of fun challenges. While I loved my previous role, I’ve found the perfect fit in my current position.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge you face?

As a leader, I face daily challenges; however, my biggest challenge is handling the complexities of ensuring robust cybersecurity measures while simultaneously meeting our researchers’ technology needs. As someone responsible for deploying and supporting applications and services, I find protecting sensitive data within Michigan Medicine and balancing innovation and security a constant challenge. 

What advice or leadership lesson would you offer to others?

Here are three pieces of advice or leadership lessons I would offer to others:

Firstly, trust your intuition. There’s likely a valid reason if something doesn’t sit right with you.

Secondly, embrace new challenges without hesitation. Even if what you are going to do is outside your comfort zone, taking on unfamiliar tasks or roles can lead to growth and new opportunities. Despite my initial apprehension, transitioning from ITS and project management to HITS, where I lacked familiarity with research, proved to be a rewarding experience.

Lastly, uphold your commitments. If you make a promise, follow through on it. If circumstances prevent you from fulfilling your obligations, communicate openly and honestly about the reasons why. Building trust and credibility is essential, especially when entrusted with the responsibilities of others’ important work or research endeavors.

When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?

Outside of work, I enjoy woodworking, a hobby I picked up a few years back. I particularly enjoy turning wood on a lathe and crafting different things. When I’m not at my computer, you’ll often find me in my workshop, where I relish the creative process of starting with no fixed plan and seeing what I can craft from the materials at hand. If I’m not indulging in woodturning, I’m likely binge-watching various shows and movies.

What’s your current binge obsession? What genres do you like?

Where do I start? The Gentlemen on Netflix, True Detective on Max, and last but not least, I’m watching Tokyo Vice. I am willing to watch any genre except horror movies.  I’m not particularly eager to watch anything scary.