Project Synapse: Let's Get Connected

February 23, 2021

This issue shines its spotlight on the Department of Psychiatry, the second largest department at the Yale School of Medicine (YSM). Psychiatry faculty and staff are spread out in 24 locations in New Haven, West Haven, and various locations affiliated with Yale New Haven Hospital’s statewide health system. The workforce is comprised of ladder, clinical and resarch faculty, clerical and technical  and  managerial and professional  staff members and  trainees totaling over 750 individuals.  The Workplace Survey team recently spoke with Amy Bradley, administrative supervisor since 2017, in the medical director’s office in the Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital, and  Kyle Pedersen, assistant director in the psychiatry department based at Connecticut Mental Health Center (CMHC). He has worked for CMHC since 2002 and since 2008 has been directing the CMHC Foundation.   

Before we move to the 2019 Workplace Survey (WPS) results, can you explain how the 2017 WPS results are connected to this Q&A?
In 2018, at Steve Gentile’s invitation, we formed a work group to address morale, teamwork, and stress in the department. We decided to name our initiative Project Synapse as a way to acknowledge our roots in psychiatry and to emphasize the importance of making connections within the department. The committee is led by us. “I (Amy) feel that serving on the committee has made me more invested and inspired.”

How were the 2019 workplace survey results shared and who presented them?  
The Department of Psychiatry has been hosting regular town hall meetings to share important information including department goals, initiatives, recognition, resources, and accomplishments. The meetings began in 2018 when Steve Gentile, senior director of Finance & Administration, shared the results of the 2017 WPS.  At the October 20, 2020 virtual town hall, Steve shared the 2019 WPS results by dimension, the three most favorable items, and the three least favorable items. The department saw an 11% increase in survey participation from 2017 due in large part to the direct outreach of the Project Synapse team members. Teamwork and diversity are the areas of opportunity that were identified.

The town hall also included a presentation about Project Synapse: Let’s Get Connected from the working committee, which was initially created to address the 2017 WPS results and now addresses the 2019 WPS results. Synapse, from the Greek meaning “to join together,” is the small space between neurons in the brain where information is transmitted and received—where connection happens.  The committee members are a cross-functional team that includes C&T and M&P staff members. They are an official group of Psychiatry and meet with the executive committee regularly.   

Can you share more information about Project Synapse?
Steve Gentile has said about Project Synapse: “We are exploring uncharted territory in this first major departmental effort to the respond to the WPS”. The goal of the committee is to find a way that all faculty and staff members of Psychiatry are well connected for optimal flow of information, innovation, and recognition.  Also, Kathleen Valera, our HRG in Psychiatry, recently weighed in, “This committee is inspiring because they are consistently looking for ways to connect staff in the department and have been successful in keeping the WPS “alive” over the years.” The current team is comprised of eight M&P and C&T staff members from various jobs and locations.  

Current team members are: 

  • Beth Cooper, Research Assistant 3, 100 York (C&T)
  • Jennifer Dolan-Auten, Director of Medical Education, 300 George (M&P)
  • Chris Gardner, Director of Communication 300 George (M&P)
  • Heather Howell, Social Worker, Psychiatry/Child Study (M&P)
  • Khalid Jabarkhail, P&G Accountant, 100 CCS (M&P)
  • Yudilyn Jaramillo, Research Assistant, CMHC (C&T)
  • Ryan Manning, P&G Analyst, 100 CCS (C&T)
  • Karima Robinson, Coordinator of Medical and Professional Staff, CMHC (C&T)
  • Zailyn Tamayo, IT Manager CNRU (M&P)
  • Past Members:
  • Stacie DiMaggio, Operations Manager, 300 George (M&P)
  • Tricia Dahl, Research Assistant, CMHC (C&T)
  • Ruth Arnold, Research Associate, MOMs Project, 40 Temple (M&P)

Can you give examples of challenges and strengths in Psychiatry?
Challenges: The mission of the department is not communicated in such a way that all members of the department have a shared understanding of how their work contributes to, aligns with, and advances the mission, which is impacting morale. There are also work silos and workplace disconnection that exist between people and programs (vertically and horizontally), which prevent the development of networks and information sharing. This can have a negative impact on teamwork. Strengths: The pride that individuals feel working in a department with a highly-recognized reputation, exceptional commitment to public health, and accomplishments in research and knowledge dissemination. Our main strength is the talent and commitment among the staff and faculty working in the department.

What recommendations were made from the 2017 WPS Action Plan that have continued into 2021?
The theme Let’s Get Connected was part of the motivation for the following recommendations to create pathways and networks for optimal flow of information, innovation, and recognition.  Recommendations and status update follow.





Host a regular Town Hall Meeting schedule (live or web-based) to share important information about department goals, initiatives, resources, and accomplishments.

Virtual meetings, e.g. Grand Rounds, Stress & Resilience Town Halls, and Anti-Racism Town Halls have been held.


Design an organizational map of the department for use in orientation and to guide communication efforts (newsletter, website, social media)

Reviewed and updated email distribution hopes to ensure accurate timely delivery of information.

(Also seeking creative ideas for the future) 


Convene an advisory group of staff leaders/champions from across the department who can generate and implement ideas for workplace initiatives.

Reconvened Project Synapse in 2019 to be an advisory group reporting to the Executive Committee. Advocated for staff inclusion on department commitees and the Anti-Racism Task Force and staff sub-committe. 


Launch a variety of initiatives to highlight staff roles and relationships within the department.

Added to Psychiatry E-News: Staff Connection Section and Profile Features of staff members. Led efforts to increase participation in 2019  WPS, with an 11% increase to 69% .

Can you share a few  of the action plans and next steps for Psychiatry and Project Synapse?
The Action Plan will be  presented at the next Town Hall meeting on February 24, 2021. This presentation will also include an update from the staff sub-committee of the department’s Anti-Racism Task Force. Sub-committee co-chairs are Kyle Pedersen and Karima Robinson.

  • Following the October 2020 Town Hall meeting, a staff survey was conducted. We collected feedback that we are using to guide our 2021 plan.
  • We are recruiting new members for Project Synapse.
  • We are coordinating with Anti-Racism Task Force and the staff sub-committee on initiatives to address diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism.

Do you believe that work has begun to transform or change the organization?
Yes. We are seeing more staff representation in departmental communication. We advocate for staff, communicating their concerns and ideas to executive leadership. The staff sub-committee of the Anti-Racism Task Force is a good example of greater staff inclusion in departmental initiatives. In addition to this staff sub-committee, we have also been able to advocate for the inclusion of staff on all the task force sub-committees.

What single piece of advice would you share with leaders and teams?
We all have leadership capacities. We are stronger and more well-connected when we see, develop, and tap into this leadership potential in one another. Then we can become an organization of leaders.