By Melynda Harrison
Last spring, students in the Principles in Leadership class read books by Rudy Guillani, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. According to Greg Young, vice provost of undergraduate education and head of University College, by reading books by leaders, not about leaders, students gain a first-hand perspective on what it's like to make the difficult decisions required of leaders.
"On the whole, most of the students have considerable respect for leaders in tough situations and can only imagine how they might react," said Young.
A new program at Montana State University challenges students to investigate leadership, through case studies, service-learning and exploring their own leadership. Called the Leadership Fellows Certificate Program, it aims to equip students with critical and ethical thinking skills so they can become positive agents of change in their communities.
"I was looking for a professional experience to supplement my academic studies," said Jen Poser, a liberal studies major from Denton, Mont., who is currently enrolled in the program. "I wanted to learn outside the classroom and have a hands-on leadership experience."
The Leadership Fellows Certificate Program is a collaboration between the Associated Students of MSU, the MSU Leadership Institute and University College. The program came out of a request by students for more leadership education, according to Carmen McSpadden, director of the MSU Leadership Fellows Program.
"There was a real thirst for this kind of training," said McSpadden.
The service component aims to get students involved in the MSU and Bozeman communities.
"Given the increased emphasis on service at the university and the direction to integrate what students learn in the classroom with what happens in the community, we knew we needed to step up our service-learning to create the leaders of the future," Young said.
For her service component, Poser created a proposal to make MSU a smoke-free campus. She met with the marketing director of Bozeman Deaconess Hospital to understand how the hospital went smoke-free. Poser is also the president of the MSU chapter of Colleges Against Cancer, and she networked with the American Cancer Society as part of her project.
"I have learned that implementing a smoke-free campus is a challenging process, and there will be opposition. However, I do have faith it will happen as there are already more than 300 smoke-free campuses in the United States.
"The Leadership Fellows program has been a phenomenal experience," said Poser. "I've learned to express myself articulately and network, both skills that will pay off in the job market."
Students come to the program with varying levels of leadership experience. Some arrive with experience as leaders in large high schools. Others, like Poser, discovered their leadership potential at MSU.
Poser will be the only woman from her high school class of 16 to graduate from college. Each year at MSU she has gotten more involved in leadership, including as an officer in her sorority, AOΩ, ASMSU Homecoming chair, senior associate for the MSU Leadership Institute and as an orientation leader.
"It's very rewarding to see her personal growth as she takes on leadership roles and responsibilities," said McSpadden.
Students in the Leadership Fellows program take two classes in the program and another 12 credits from major and non-major courses in addition to the service-learning piece.
In the capstone class students reflect on their leadership experience.
"It's that reflective piece that allows them to go into the workforce and articulately and knowledgeably talk about leadership," McSpadden said.
The program has been in development for three or fours years. A pilot class took place last spring with nine students. The program officially launches in spring 2010.
"It's the wave of the future to prepare tomorrow's leaders," Young said.
Poser feels she has learned a lot from the program so far and "definitely recommends" it to others.
"I am grateful for the opportunity to add value to my undergraduate degree," she said.