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Learning to lead: 10 years of Leadership Studies at WVU

Over the last decade, the Leadership Studies Program at West Virginia University has grown from having six graduates in 2006, to approximately 60 graduates in 2016. This semester, students, faculty and staff in the Leadership Studies program are celebrating the program’s 10th anniversary as well as what it means to be a leader.
leadership studies“We’ve seen an interest and need for leadership at all levels,” Lisa DeFrank-Cole, director of the Leadership Studies Program, said. “I think overtime, people [become] frustrated with bad leadership, and they want to learn about good leadership techniques and qualities.”

Brent Bishop, a civil engineering graduate student who minored in leadership studies while pursuing his undergraduate degree, said that interviewers have always been interested in his minor.

“The conversation always turns to my leadership studies minor and how I would handle different leadership scenarios that they propose,” Bishop said. “Leadership and management skills are consistently the most sought after from employers over the actual technical skills of a candidate.”

In the program’s first year, a $2 million gift by Milan Puskar created the Milan Puskar Leadership Scholars Program. All students minoring in leadership studies are eligible to become Puskar Scholars, and the program has provided students the opportunity to participate in a variety of enrichment activities to enhance their leadership skills.
Over the years these activities have included attending workshops, seminars and conferences, as well as an abundance of service projects.

Many classes in the Leadership Studies Program include service learning as part of the curriculum. Students have worked with countless community leaders around Morgantown, W.Va.

“I think the impact has been mutually beneficial on both the community and on our students. If students see others leading, it gives them hope that they can be leaders [as well],” DeFrank-Cole said. 

Quoting Marian Wright Edelman, DeFrank-Cole said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Around 30 students worked with Habitat for Humanity to construct a house in Morgantown’s Jerome Park neighborhood for a Day of Service on March 25.

“We’ve been given a great gift of education,” DeFrank-Cole said. “We’re so happy to be here as a program. In my mind, [giving back] is a great way to celebrate. As a land-grant university, it is in our mission to give back to our community.”

What’s ahead for the Leadership Studies program? Internationalization, expanding study abroad opportunities and encouraging faculty to conduct research.

“Students need to understand people from different places,” DeFrank-Cole said. “If someone wants to be a leader, they’re not going to be leading people all like themselves. They have to understand the dynamics of different cultures.”

The Leadership Studies program co-sponsored the visit from Dave Archambault, II, the Native American Studies Leader-in-Residence. Archambault, Tribal Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, visited WVU March 26-28 to discuss the current status of the Dakota Access Pipeline that recently stirred up controversy and made international headlines. During his visit, Archambault sat down for a formal dinner with the Puskar Scholars.

The visit goes back to the program’s mission of promoting internationalization, DeFrank-Cole said.

“Giving students the opportunity to meet a leader who comes to campus and speaks about a certain topic, gives [students] the change to hear a perspective from someone they wouldn’t have met otherwise,” she said.

Personal interactions with leaders are important, DeFrank-Cole said, and sitting down to dinner with an honored guest allows students to build confidence and learn proper etiquette for formal dining.

“We need and want leadership from a variety of multicultural perspectives. [A Native American Leader-in-Residence] is someone students may not meet day-to-day, walking around West Virginia University.” DeFrank-Cole said. “They’ll have a chance to learn a different way of leading.”

John Nowery, an immunology and medical microbiology major and leadership studies minor, said that having a large global mindset is needed to be able to solve problems around the world.

“I believe the practice of learning about other cultures to be extremely vital - not just for the “leaders,” but for everyone,” he said. “We’re taught as kids to be able to put ourselves in the other guy’s shoes, but how effective is that practice when the other guy has the same shoes as me?”

Nowery said that the members of a leader’s group may be extremely diverse, and that a leader must know their follower base well enough to make well-informed decisions.

“I can’t give them [diversity]. I love that opportunity—when we can bring someone in that can share with them a perspective that is slightly different from a textbook definition of leadership,” DeFrank-Cole said.

What it means to be a leader has changed in the last decade. DeFrank-Cole said that more women have taken on leadership positions, but it’s still important to teach classes about women in leadership.

According to Fortune Magazine, only 4.2 percent of women held CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies in 2016.

“By expanding our concept of what a good leader looks like, I think we all benefit. The most creative solutions come from diverse groups of people.” DeFrank-Cole said. “…[People] are eager to have this information, and want to make a difference.”

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