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October 4, 2012

FoE implementation: Leadership engagement

Harry Brown believes every Purdue student has the potential to be a leader.

"It’s our responsibility to prepare them for a world that expects them to be leaders," says Brown, assistant dean of students and director of the Boiler Volunteer Network. "We need to help them develop leadership, and that needs to start in the first year of their experience."

Brown is the director of leadership engagement for the Foundations of Excellence process. He is one of five members of the implementation team focused on aligning the University’s resources to enhance a student’s first-year experience.

Roughly 80 percent of students participate in at least one organization, Brown says. As a result of FoE, Brown would like to see more students take part in an organization -- especially those who have not traditionally participated, including first-generation students, international students and underrepresented minorities.

"We need enough opportunities and a great variety of opportunities that give our students multiple access points to gain leadership experience," Brown says. "It means we need to brainstorm and bring people together to see what we’re all doing, whom we’re serving and how our students are benefiting. We want to be effective, efficient, and reach all of our students.

"We need to have collaborative efforts to do that, and our goal is to help every student, not just the top students that come here and say I want to be a leader. We want to reach every student, and that’s going to take a tremendous collaborative effort across the University."

Incoming students learn about leadership opportunities through presentations at Boiler Gold Rush and the STAR (Summer Transition, Advising, and Registration) program. There are also multiple activities fairs held during the first month that students return to campus. Brown is working to further develop these programs in collaboration with campus partners, and to inform more students of potential ways to become leaders.

To help students understand their leadership potential, assessment tools such as the Strength Quest Inventory may be employed, says Melissa Exum, vice president for student affairs and a task force leader.

"We really want them to think about who they are, and we want them to ask those critical questions,”  Exum says. "Leadership is about the ability to inspire and influence wherever you may be.  In order to accomplish this, students will need to have insight as to who they are and build a set of competencies that will give them the confidence to lead."

Students who participate in an organization tend to have higher grade point averages and more frequently graduate on time, Brown says.

"I think students who participate in an organization learn time management, they make connections, and they make this large university a little bit smaller and more personal through friendships and connections," Brown says. "I think if they’re doing things they enjoy outside of the classroom, then it makes it easier to spend the time it takes to be academically successful."

Brown stressed being a leader is not necessarily related to what title is held by a person within an organization.

"It’s not about position, but it’s about involvement," Brown says. "The simple definition of a leader is anyone who is in a group or organization and takes responsibility for the success of that organization. That can be something small by bringing up a new idea in a meeting, or something more traditionally recognized, such as being an office holder in an organization.

"Leadership skills can be developed from being active in a student organization, which can provide opportunities for creative thinking, critical thinking, ethical reasoning and integrated learning." 

In addition to stimulating those activities, gaining leadership skills early can help students obtain employment after graduation, says David Lasater, director of advancement-student success in the Office of the Provost and a member of the FoE organization committee.

"From a corporate perspective, when we have employers coming to campus, certainly an aspect they want to see in prospective employees is leadership," Lasater says. "Companies want employees who are able to take initiative, who understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and who are able to right away make a difference in the organization."

Brown believes a more active student body leads to a better community.

"The fact that we have 1,000 student organizations means there are 1,000 opportunities or more to make the quality of life on this campus better," Brown says. "I think a more active and committed student body makes this University a better place."

Additionally, developing more active students is a main purpose of Purdue, a land-grant university.

"One of the ideas behind it is we educate people for the betterment of them, so they will go out and make life better in other places," Brown says. "I think getting them active here means when they leave here, no matter where they go for their career, they will be active there. They will make the quality of life better there, and that’s one of our charges as a land-grant university."

Writer: Brian Peloza, 49-49573, purduetoday@purdue.edu