by Hanna Schutte ’11
What do you get when you combine students who are passionate about leadership with five area colleges, the Mankato business community, and Greater Mankato Growth, Inc.?
The Collegiate Leadership Academy, a program that provides college students with foundational skills of leadership.
Founded in 2008-09, the Collegiate Leadership Academy (CLA), began as a way for local colleges and businesses to develop their resources collectively and provide a robust learning opportunity for students.
“The purpose of the organization is to promote leadership in young professionals as we begin to enter into the workforce by giving us a cohesive understanding of leadership styles and techniques,” said Gustavus senior international management major Lexi Prahl.
Through a variety of programs and workshops, students have had the opportunity to meet with business leaders, their respective college presidents, and students from other area colleges. Local business leaders have also embraced the program as a valuable way to provide students with more opportunities now and upon graduation.
The five participating colleges are Gustavus, Bethany Lutheran College, South Central College, Rasmussen College, and Minnesota State University, Mankato. Students were selected to participate in CLA based on their interest in leadership and their passion for learning.
“Students from different institutions are coming together to learn about leadership,” said Stephen Bennett, assistant dean of students at Gustavus and co-founder of CLA. “Although we are very different schools, with different students, we are finding we have a lot to learn from each other. As we work in teams, we find that we have more in common than we thought—especially a passion for leadership learning.”
CLA began in September 2008 with the completion of the ropes course on the Minnesota State Mankato campus. “The ropes course tested both our physical and our mental stamina in a group and individual setting,” said Prahl. Academy members have also participated in workshops to learn about emotional intelligence, effective communication, and professionalism.
On February 18, 2009, CLA members participated in a day on civic engagement and leadership. Participants had the opportunity to spend the day at the State Capitol in St. Paul, where they met with three individuals who have ties to Gustavus and have served in public office: Ruth Johnson ’69, who served three terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives; Terry Morrow, a current state representative and Gustavus communications studies professor; and G. Barry Anderson ’76, a Minnesota Supreme Court judge. The three spoke about how their experiences at Gustavus helped prepare them to serve in the public field, as well as their decision to enter that field. Participants also had the chance to sit in on a Transportation Committee hearing. Finally, students learned about the “legacy of service,” and the importance of determining their legacy.
“It was a powerful day for all of us to witness and experience democracy in action,” said Bennett.
Since CLA is a pilot program, how it will grow and change over the next few years is still being determined. However, the benefits of helping students prepare for leadership careers are readily apparent. “The Mankato region is growing rapidly, and in these challenging economic times, having local connections can be a real advantage for students,” said Bennett. It is the hope of CLA, however, that students will be able to take the leadership skills they have learned anywhere they choose. For the future, team leadership development and internships are being considered to further develop the program for participants.
The vision statement of CLA is “to develop capacity and skills within area college students for the purpose of equipping students to lead and serve their campus communities, their local communities, our country, and our world.” Participants also recognize the value of community in the program.
“Leadership takes so many forms and in each way touches on some Gustavus ideal, whether through service leadership, leadership education, visible leadership, or things we do in our day-to-day lives that no one knows of but ourselves,” said Sonja Andersen, senior management major. “I strongly believe that leadership is a mindset and way of life that helps to build community, as well as self empowerment, in the students, staff, and faculty at Gustavus.”
After learning, growing, and getting involved with their leadership skills, Gustavus CLA participants meet the future better prepared and ready to lead.