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PSS Winter '09 - Bruce Springsteen Photo

In Pursuit of Leadership

A campus-wide effort helmed by a William Smith student has resulted in a flagship leadership development program at HWS.

by Kirra Henick-Kling Guard ’08, MAT ’09

It was nearly two years ago when, after being hired to research best practices in student leadership development, I met with Mara O’Laughlin ’66, assistant vice president for the William Smith Centennial Fund, to discuss the Centennial Center for Leadership and the ideas behind it. As an initiative of the William Smith Centennial Committee, the Center for Leadership was to be a place for women and men of the Colleges to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to become global leaders with an emphasis on the issues central to the mission of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, among them, gender, inclusiveness and ethical leadership.

With this in mind I began work with Bob Murphy, director of The Salisbury Center for Career Services, to evaluate leadership programs across the country and develop a plan that was grounded in credible research. Referencing research done by both Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) and the Kellogg Foundation on essential components of successful leadership programs, we developed a script of questions for directors of leadership development programs. These questions addressed the findings of the research we referenced as well as the intentions of the Centennial Committee for the Center. Questions included: “How does the program align with the mission of the institution?” “Is there campus-wide support and involvement in the program?” and “Do students gain an understanding of gender issues?”

For more than two months I traveled to or telephoned nearly 20 leadership program directors at various colleges and universities across the country, including Claremont- McKenna College, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University, Middlebury College, and Mount Holyoke College. I was able to learn important details about the development and implementation of each leadership program and how it aligned with the research done by NASPA and the Kellogg Foundation.

At the same time, Bob and I were meeting with individuals across the Hobart and William Smith campus in order to understand all that was already being done to promote leadership development and what direction community members felt the Center should take. Numerous individuals were already working on wonderful leadership development opportunities, including a co-curricular transcript, various mentoring programs, practical leadership experiences and leadership development programs for students involved in specific programs such as Resident Assistant training or athletics. A common theme in these meetings was that the Center should become an umbrella for the leadership development opportunities on campus, and that it should include leadership programming that is available to all students.

In order to begin program development, a committee was formed to guide and review progress. The committee is comprised of individuals from across the institution, including faculty, students and staff. In August 2007, I presented my research findings to this leadership committee. My findings included the best examples from the program directors I had interviewed as well as information gathered about leadership development already taking place at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Since this meeting a number of individuals from different departments, including the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, the Center for Teaching and Learning, Residential Education, the Center for Career Services, Student Life, the William Smith Dean’s office and academic departments, have worked to create the programming that will be offered by the Center. The members of the leadership committee periodically meet with those involved in program development to review and discuss the plans being made.

To date the Center has a leadership definition, a clear mission aligned directly with the goals of the Colleges, a model to guide program development and much of the programming to be offered by the Center. This includes skill seminars like effective listening, communicating in terms of inclusive excellence and ethics. Programming will also include opportunities for self-assessment of leadership skills, development of leadership theory, critical analysis and discussion of leadership experiences, experiential leadership opportunities and mentoring. Students as well as campus and greater community members will be invited to participate, and funding for fellowships and scholarships will be available.

All of this has been made possible through the generous support of our alumni, alumnae, parents and friends to mark the Centennial of William Smith. More than $8 million has been raised, including a generous lead gift from Cynthia Gelsthorpe Fish ’82, so that the program can be housed in handsome facilities at 603 South Main Street. A very generous anonymous gift will allow us to bring speakers and “Leaders in Residence” to campus right away — prominent women who will share their experiences and meet with our students. A permanent home and generous funding are largely responsible for the world class programming that will be offered out of the center, as well as its sustainability.

The Centennial Celebration in early November represented a culmination of years of preparation and hard work. From the time and energy so many invested to honor the William Smith Centennial to the final details of leadership programming, everything has been done with care. In true Hobart and William Smith tradition, members from across our community have come together to ensure that the results of our work are nothing short of the best they can be. Every aspect of Centennial Center programming has been aligned with nationally recognized research, best practices from other successful programs and Hobart and William Smith goals and ideals. As a result it is expected that the William Smith Centennial Center for Leadership will become a flagship leadership development program, one to be referenced and modeled across the country.

The William Smith Centennial Center for Leadership will offer its students the skills and knowledge they need to become leaders in all areas of life, whether as a doctor, CEO, PTA member, politician, psychologist or anything else. Because of this, the Center will become a point of difference for Hobart and William Smith Colleges and will provide graduates with a competitive edge as graduate school and job applicants. In short, the Centennial Center will allow Hobart and William Smith students to fulfill the mission of the institution – to lead in the 21st century.