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Leadership 101

Some leaders are natural-born. Many learn to lead over time by trial and error. But some undergraduates are learning leadership skills more deliberately by earning the College’s new leadership certificate.

The certificate idea evolved from earlier leadership training efforts, including retreats for student leaders and a leadership seminar. Students who helped plan those efforts also helped develop the leadership certificate program.

“They said, ”This is what’s missing from our education, and we want to participate,” says assistant dean Christina Klawitter, who oversees the leadership certificate program.

As they earn the certificate, students learn about various leadership styles – including their own – as well as the wide variety of personality types they”re likely to encounter.

College-level leadership training isn”t so much a new idea as one that”s been dormant, says Gerry Campbell, faculty director of the College”s Community Scholars Program, which offers opportunities for engaged learning through community service.

“Higher education was historically the place that prepared leaders,” says Campbell, “but it often gets lost in preparing students in the scientific disciplines in which our college excels. The things we”re talking about have to do with social, personal and psychological interactive skills, which complement the scientific disciplines.”

To earn the certificate, students must demonstrate competency in nine areas, ranging from ethics to organizations. There are specific requirements for demonstrating competency in each area, but flexibility in how students meet those requirements.

“(The requirements) document how to meet the skills at specified levels,” explains Rich Hartel, a food science professor who serves on the leadership program committee. “But the methods students use to master the competencies were purposely left wide open to allow for creativity and individuality.”

Faculty or staff mentors help students decide how they can best meet the competency requirements. Mentors challenge students to think about how their conceptual knowledge fits with their practical experiences.

There”s more to earning the certificate than checking off requirements. There is also a self-reflection component. “The students will learn most in thinking about what they did, how things worked and what they could have done differently,” says Hartel.

Robin Kurtz, faculty associate in the bacteriology department, helped devise the ethics competency criteria for the leadership certificate and includes a discussion of scientific ethics into a seminar she teaches. She says that leadership training can have immediate paybacks. Industry representatives tell faculty that when they are hiring, they look for people who can work in teams, think on their feet, and lead, she says.

“That’s where this leadership certificate can be really useful,” says Kurtz.