This week, 12 incoming students at Washington and Lee University are taking part in the new Leadership Venture pre-orientation program to develop their leadership skills. The aim is for the students not only to come away with an understanding of the foundations of leadership, but also to develop their personal vision and mission for leadership on campus.
Leadership Venture represents the third track in W&L's Leading Edge pre-orientation program, which brings entering students together for the week before they undergo orientation with the entire class beginning on Saturday, Sept. 1.The two other tracks are the Appalachian Adventure, with students hiking and camping on the Appalachian Trail, and the Volunteer Venture, with students performing volunteer work in one of six cities.
Sidney Evans, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at W&L, proposed the new program on leadership in response to a recent Princeton University study on the decline of women in leadership roles during college. "One of the things the study talked about was the importance of getting in front of women at the very beginning of their college career, to get them talking about leadership," explains Evans.
As they developed the idea, Evans and Tamara Y. Futrell, the associate dean of students at W&L, who directs the program, determined that early introduction to leadership study would benefit all participants.
"I'm glad they expanded it to include men," said Pasquale (Paqui) Toscano, of Kettering, Ohio. "It's really great that all of us come from such diverse backgrounds — both gender and geography — because it adds to the texture of the experience."
Futrell developed the basis of the program with the help of Brodie Gregory, a 2003 graduate of W&L and current president of the university’s alumni association. Gregory, who holds a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology, is an expert in leadership and a former visiting professor of psychology at W&L. Megan Schneider joined Student Affairs this academic year in the new position of associate director of leadership and residential learning initiatives. She oversees leadership programming on campus, and created the curriculum and activities for Leadership Venture as well as serving as the lead facilitator.
With 28 applicants this first year, the organizers expanded their original aim of recruiting 10 students — five women and five men —to 12. Applicants had to submit essays describing what leadership means to them, their own perspective on leadership, and the characteristics and behaviors of effective leaders.
The students spent two and a half days this week on campus examining the foundations of leadership, leadership theory, what the students admire in leaders, and what they see as their own strengths in leadership. "We've learned different approaches to leadership and how it can be situational, and the different aspects that make a leader," said Hannah Howard, a first-year student from Waco, Texas. "We've also learned how people you would originally not expect to be leaders are actually some of the best ones we have. While the other possibilities for trips before orientation sounded great and a lot of fun, I'm really glad I got into Leadership Venture, because it's been fun, and we're learning a lot."
To help the students identify their individual strengths in leadership, Futrell purchased books that allowed them to go online, answer questions, and establish five strengths they should develop during the program and afterwards. For example, is the student's strength in discipline or harmony; in being a developer, a relater or a learner?
"I always thought of myself as somewhat of a leader, but by no means the finished product," said Arriana Nastoff, of Cincinnati, Ohio. "I hope this will help me develop some of the areas I know I need to develop."
For the rest of the week, the students are in Washington, D.C., to meet with W&L alumni. The alumni will talk about their own involvement in leadership when they were students at Washington and Lee, how those experiences translated into their current careers, and how their leadership style has evolved.
"It's really exciting, because we have alumni who are really strong in their fields and have been able to secure meetings with some other leaders, including Rebecca Blank, the acting secretary of commerce," said Futrell. Other alumni the students will meet are Bennett Ross, of the Class of 1983, a partner in the law firm Wiley Rein L.L.L.P., and a trustee of W&L; Meredith Attwell Baker, of the Class of 1990, senior vice president of Comcast and former member of the Federal Communications Commission; and Dr. Nicole Ehrhardt, of the Class of 1998, an endocrinologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Trip leaders are senior Kahena Joubert and junior Trevor (Trey) Hatcher.
The students are also learning about the opportunities for leadership on campus and in the community. "The hope is that the Leadership Venture students will want to continue to be involved in leadership development throughout their time at W&L," said Futrell. "It's not about just serving in formal leadership roles, but being invested in being educated leaders as well."