Skip to main content

Building better leaders

WVU launches new Graduate Certificate in Leadership

Author note: This story was originally published on

Students can now enhance their leadership capacity at work and in their daily life with West Virginia University’s new graduate certificate in leadership. The first of its kind in the state of West Virginia, the program offers working professionals innovative, research-driven courses with practical applications.

“Leadership crosses every discipline and is needed in every sector, including corporate business, nonprofits, government and education,” said Lisa DeFrank-Cole, director of the Leadership Studies Program in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. “Establishing a baseline knowledge of leadership principles will help anyone currently in, or aspiring to, a leadership position. College courses in leadership were not widely available even 20 years ago, and I am sure many people who are interested in this subject would enjoy and benefit from this 15-credit-hour program.”

Offered entirely online, the program provides a flexible curriculum that can be completed in as little as one year. It is designed for professionals who entered the workforce before getting to take courses in leadership.

“This graduate certificate is great for working professionals who cannot afford to take two to three years away from their current jobs to go back to school but who still want to expand their leadership knowledge and training,” said Jason Kapcala, a current student in the program who is a captioning and interpreting coordinator with WVU’s Office of Accessibility Services.

The curriculum teaches students to manage conflict and change, analyze organizational ethics and assess a variety of leadership types and approaches. Students also learn to critique the role of leadership in shaping organizational culture and climate.

“The most important lesson I’ve learned in the program so far is to look for other leadership qualities that my colleagues possess. Knowing your team’s strengths gives you more power when making decisions or delegating important roles,” said Tayler Morrow, a current student and registered behavior technician in the WVU Medicine Children’s behavioral analysis clinic. “As someone working in a clinical health care setting, it is important to know how and when to step into a leadership role at any time. My unit works as a team where everyone has the opportunity to show leadership throughout a session. Feeling confident in my leadership is important to the integrity of the treatment I provide my clients.”

Current student Jennifer Knight is the director of the Jon Michael Moore Trauma Center at WVU, an American College of Surgeons level one center. In this role, she oversees the multidisciplinary care of about 4,000 injured patients. Knight said the graduate certificate has helped her become a more aware and capable leader.

“As a leader, my goal is to maintain excellent care for all injured West Virginians,” said Knight. “Leadership skills are essential to the job I do every day. As physicians, we are taught how to care for people but not necessarily taught the skills needed to be leaders. This program has provided me with valuable knowledge that has had an immediate and direct effect on how I function each day.”

The courses complement professions in business, government, health care, law enforcement, nonprofit organizations and more.

“I have been a public educator for a long time, but I was never interested in a track to become a principal. I was more interested in being a teacher-leader and community-leader when the graduate school opportunity presented itself,” saidDenise Workman, program development coordinator for Communities in Schools at the West Virginia Department of Education and former middle school gifted teacher. “Pursuing the graduate certificate in leadership will add expertise and credentials to maximize the impact of the work I do professionally and in my community and state.”

The students represent a wide range of industries and professions, and learning from each other is an added benefit.

“Studying alongside my classmates, many of whom hold leadership positions in a variety of interesting fields, has given me a lot to think about,” said Kapcala. “Leadership, I am learning, is not a one-size-fits-all-contexts practice, and I find myself benefitting from the diverse perspectives of my peers. I feel that this certificate is encouraging me to interrogate my own beliefs about leadership and think critically about the ways in which leadership is defined and conceptualized in the world outside of the classroom.”

The next start date for the Graduate Certificate in Leadership is May 2020. To learn more or apply, visit