Leadership Program connects co-curricular activities, academics, theory, life

| May 7, 2008

Twenty-two students have completed Sweet Briar’s new three-year course in leadership, including eight graduating seniors who will receive certificates during the 2008 senior awards ceremony.

They are the first to graduate from the Leadership Certificate Program, which was launched in 2005 as a Shape of the Future initiative. Unlike the College’s other courses of study that result in a certificate, this one is administered by and rooted in the co-curricular life office.

Its stated purpose is to prepare women to become responsible and influential members of a global community through academic and experiential learning focusing on the foundations of leadership, individual personal development and organizational theories.

One of the ways it does so is by requiring candidates to think about the connections between leadership opportunities they already have through student organizations, employment and internships; theories learned in the classroom across disciplines; and their additional studies on leadership through the program. Students write a reflective essay at the end of each year to demonstrate they have satisfied the requirement.

“The whole program provides guided reflections to help them understand how those things complement each other,” said Jonathan Green, dean of the College. “It gives them the framework in which to appreciate how the theoretical and practical actually relate to each other.”

Joan Lucy, who took over the program as its first director in 2006, meets with her students every week and has witnessed a few such “ah ha” moments.

“When students talk about how their classes fit with what was discussed in leadership and vice versa — that’s what we want. It’s then relevant to them,” she said. “I just think it really does bring together their whole collegiate experience.”

The program is structured in three phases, each taking roughly two semesters to complete. The three-year commitment allows students to take time off for study abroad or other pursuits.

“In phase one, there’s a lot of focus on self — self awareness, values clarification, personal strengths and interests, developing an individual definition of leadership, as well as some concrete skills such as time management and effective communication,” Lucy said.

“In phase two, we’re taking it to the larger scale of not just self, but others. It moves into the community, group dynamics, the notion of working toward a common goal.

“Phase three delves into the deeper levels of ethics, contemporary issues and leadership. How will they take their exploration of leadership into their fields and their lives.”

An engineer and a dancer will use leadership skills differently, Lucy said, also pointing to what she sees as one of the program’s strengths — its diversity. Among the more than 50 participants, most of the sciences and humanities are represented, which brings many viewpoints to their weekly discussions.

Lucy meets separately with each phase. The meetings include a student-led activity, and often discussion of assigned texts or a guest faculty lecturer, such as President Muhlenfeld or Dean Green.

Second- and third-phase students also may help plan the leadership conference Sweet Briar hosts annually for local college students. With Lucy’s help, the leadership students choose a theme, secure speakers, handle logistics and organize breakout sessions.

The students also help develop the program’s curriculum, which attracted junior Kathryn Lydin. As a first-year, she was participating in LEAP — Leaders: Emerging and Achieving Program, a stand-alone Sweet Briar program that candidates must complete — and decided to go for the certificate.

“I was really excited that the program was just beginning and that we would have a hand in what it would become,” Lydin said.

Lucy said that’s generating a lot of enthusiasm among all her students. “We’re at a neat place because the program exists, it’s established but it’s young and growing, and it’s the energy of the students that is really guiding the growth, the content of the program,” she said.

The program is designed as a continuum. It moves from teaching tangibles such as time management and public speaking to more abstract concepts, such as ethics and styles of leadership.

“The idea that you’re involvement will grow with each phase helps you to get involved on campus,” said Lydin, a history and international affairs major who believes if you’re not involved, you’re not getting the full college experience.

Each phase requires participation in on- or off-campus activities, such as fundraisers, student government, team sports, creative or performing arts, and internships or work-study. Phases two and three require students to take a leadership role in at least one project.

Often the activities dovetail with students’ innate interests, but for Lydin, the leadership program pushed her beyond mere participation. She joined the Sweet Tones in her first semester, fresh out of high school where she rarely talked in class. This year, she is the group’s president and next year, she’ll be musical director.

As her conception of what leadership is grows, her style is evolving, she said. “When I first got here I thought the leader had to be the one person at the top.”

She quickly learned there are behind-the-scenes leaders who contribute in different ways. As the Sweet Tones president, she gathers input from everyone before deciding on a course and feels others respond well to that. She’s also discovered some people “need you to be a different kind of leader.”

As her confidence grows, so does her assertiveness.

“I didn’t think I was a leader until I got involved and realized that I was a more of a behind-the-scenes leader — at first. Now, not so much.”

Jennifer McManamay

Category: Leadership Certificate Program