What makes a great leader? Is someone born a leader, or can such skills be learned and cultivated? Each February on President’s Day, we honor great leaders throughout the history of the United States. Many of those we honor earned their degrees at some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country. Today, other institutions aim to shape the next generation of great leaders – whether they lead in public office or in the private sector – through specialized programs that expose students to a variety of local, national, and international experiences. In honor of Presidents’ Day, here are Dr. Kat’s five colleges for future leaders.
What does a concentration in leadership entail? It’s part learning and part experience. Leadership studies students take a variety of courses on leadership in political science, history, anthropology, and of course, leadership studies departments. Interesting leadership studies courses include The Art of Presidential Leadership, Shakespeare’s Warriors and Politicians, Propaganda, and more.
In addition to classroom instruction, students put their leadership skills to use by organizing on-campus events like lectures with notable speakers, seminars, and conferences.
American University, Washington, DC
Leadership abounds in the nation’s capital, so it’s no surprise that American University, in the heart of Washington, DC, has one of the most comprehensive leadership programs for undergraduates.
This four-year, 15-credit track allows students in the School of Public Affairs to gain the leadership skills and experience needed to succeed in the public and private sector – and in life. In addition to honing public speaking, teamwork, and communication skills, first-year students work together in groups to develop and execute social action projects – putting them in the heart of the community to lead a positive change. Past social action projects include producing plays, designing websites, organizing awareness events, letter-writing campaigns, and more.
Throughout the course of the program, students also volunteer, intern, and travel to learn more about the problems facing local and international communities, and what it takes to resolve them. By the time they graduate, leadership students have extensive experience with teamwork, networking, fundraising, grant writing, project management, and more – all skills necessary in order to be an impactful leader, whether it’s within an organization or public office.
Smith College, Northampton, MA
Women’s colleges are known for producing strong female leaders, and Smith College in Massachusetts is no exception. Boasting famous alumnae like Nancy Reagan and Senator Tammy Baldwin, Smith College has a strong tradition of leadership.
Through the Phoebe Reese Lewis Leadership Program, Smith women are able to cultivate important leadership skills through practical application and experience. The signature program within the leadership track is the January Initiative. This two-year program offers accepted students an intensive two-week workshop for two January terms, where students work with faculty and community leaders to cultivate and build teamwork, public speaking, problem solving, and other leadership skills. Only about 25 students are accepted each year, making it a competitive program.
In addition to the January Initiative, the leadership program also offers other leadership-based initiatives like the Leadership by Design program, which offers all students regardless of class year the opportunity to build skills as well as get involved in community and leadership efforts.
University of Maryland, College Park, MD
At the University of Maryland, students within the College Park Scholars community have the unique opportunity to live and work with other students who share their interests and academic goals. One program within the community that aims to train the next wave of great public and private influencers is the Public Leadership program.
The mission of UMD’s public leadership program is to “develop social change agents who provide ethically based leadership from the local to the global level.” Whether they’re interested in government, non-profit, or for-profit sectors, students come from all backgrounds in order to work together to solve community problems and develop effective leadership skills.
The core of the public leadership program is active learning – it’s not enough to be in the classroom. Students implement what they learn through specific projects and assignments outside of the traditional college classroom setting.
Aside from coursework and program projects, students also have the opportunity to represent and lead their peers through student leadership opportunities. Whether it’s serving on the student advisory board, joining the Public Leadership Council, or organizing events for the Scholars Cup, there are plenty of opportunities for leadership students to get involved and gain experience leading their peers.
Bates College, Lewiston, ME
For many, the greatest leadership opportunities are right in their own backyards. Great leaders make the most impact by supporting their communities, and at Bates College students within the Bonner Leader Program do just that.
Managed by the Howard Center for Community Partnerships, the Bonner Leader Program aims to “promote opportunities for student development, learning and engagement through community work.” Students within the program spend about six hours per week volunteering with community leaders to identify and solve local social and neighborhood problems. Students then spend about two hours per week with each other, reflecting on their projects and experiences and working together to train and build upon their leadership skills.
Leadership training at Bates isn’t limited to the Bonner Leader Program. Community engagement and leadership is at the heart of a Bates education, and the school offers many other opportunities for students to cultivate their leadership skills. Through the Community-Engaged Learning program, students and faculty integrate service work into coursework, affording them the opportunity to learn and serve at the same time. Students also learn to work together and solve local problems through the school’s Student Volunteer Fellows Program, wherein students spend about eight hours per week working in the community.
Leadership is a quality that comes with experience, and these college programs offer students just that – the chance to learn and cultivate their skills inside and outside of the classroom. Other colleges with great leadership programs and initiatives include Ithaca College, Brown University, Boston College, University of Georgia, and Barnard College.
Looking for ways to gain leadership experience while still in high school? Through community service and other activities, students can cultivate skills to help make an impact locally – something colleges look for in applicants. For help identifying great leadership programs or opportunities, contact us for more information on our Initial Consultations!