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CMU initiative seeks to broaden the concept of being a leader

Cross-disciplinary approach proposed to advance leadership learning

Contact: Heather Smith


Central Michigan University President George E. Ross is often quoted as saying “At the end of the day, we graduate leaders.” Now, a universitywide initiative is being launched to further expand leadership opportunities for CMU’s 27,000 students.

Twenty years ago, the university launched a novel program called Leadership Safari, designed to give incoming freshmen some of the skills and perspectives needed to be successful in college.

CMU then established leadership education as a priority in 1998, with the opening of the Leadership Institute. In 2006, the first and only leadership minor offered at a Michigan four-year university was introduced. Today, CMU awards more scholarships for leadership than any other college or university in the Midwest.

Shaun Holtgreive, executive director for student affairs, said the leadership learning initiative is designed to refine the overarching student experience. It will expand the concept of personal leadership to have ultimate value in the workplace and in communities.

“Our work is aimed at expanding a mindset among all students about what it means to be a leader,” Holtgreive said. “There is an overriding misconception about what leadership is. Most see it as holding a position of power or running a corporation. The truth is, leadership comes in many forms from being involved in student team projects to taking the initiative to volunteer and help others.”

Dennis Roberts, an expert in leadership education, was brought in to review CMU’s leadership development programs.

“CMU has played a critical role in developing students with leadership skills in response to employer and community demand,” Roberts said. “I recommend the university pull together several cross-campus groups to bring cohesion to leadership education that could be adopted universitywide.”

One of his recommendations includes creation of an academic department to make leadership skills more strategically available to all students, whether they study health care, business, communication or any other career path. This idea, and several others, will be explored by campus work groups, Holtgrieve said.

“With an even more robust model of proactively developing leadership, we would share a common language about what students need to learn in order to succeed,” said Dan Gaken, director of the CMU Leadership Institute. “This model would provide students with a roadmap to acquire skills and articulate to employers what they’ve learned about leadership.”

Holtgreive said the initiative will be an ongoing, multiyear project. The work groups will be formed in the spring.


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