Wichita State junior Adam Key is certain that leadership can be taught.
The best way is by example and application in real-world settings.
“The key is teaching in a way that allows the students to practice it,” he said. “That makes it really stick in your brain and see the importance of the things you’re being taught.”
Key is one of eight students representing six WSU colleges who recently participated in the Lead for Tomorrow Leadership Academy in the Cohen Honors College. Five faculty members led the interdisciplinary course presenting content from their field focused on the theme “Connected Leadership: Creating a Community of Leaders.” Students then were tasked to apply course content to challenges presented by local community partners.
The course and its travel are inspired by Dorothy and Bill Cohen’s gift for the Honors College. The course completed its third year with a trip to Portland, Maine, for students to examine community connections in a seaport city with a metro population of around 500,000.
“It was imagined for a leadership experience, something that students wouldn’t encounter in other ways,” said Dr. Chelsea Redger-Marquardt, assistant dean in the Cohen Honors College. “The piece of curiosity and life-long learning are Honors outcomes. Education as a driver for making public impact. That’s such an important part of Dorothy and Bill’s legacy.”
The students worked with ICT Food Rescue and First Tee - Greater Wichita to help with issues such as community awareness and retaining and motivating volunteers. For example, they tackled strategies for emphasizing to volunteers their importance and showing them how their time and work fits into the organization’s goals.
Students used design thinking, needs assessment, root cause analysis and other tactics to help those groups. The trip to Portland offered an opportunity to see how similar programs worked in a different part of the country. Next spring, the class will visit Memphis.
“This class was all about community, building a sense of community, engaging with the community,” said Gregory VanDyke Jr., a 2023 Wichita State graduate with a degree in criminal justice and an honors leadership distinction. “We were able to go out in the community and work with community partners. Then with the travel we were able to bring back what I’m learning.”
Key, who is majoring in entrepreneurship and honors baccalaureate with an emphasis in innovation design, digital marketing and wellness, contributed to the final presentation for the ICT Food Rescue group with his graphic design skills. Others offered skills in video editing, creating documents and personas for volunteers.
“I liked the hands-on experience of it,” Key said. “I really gained a new level of being able to lean on other people and finding what skills I’m best at and them being able to lean on me.”
In Portland, students visited Wayside Food Programs and Portland Community Squash to look at their techniques for working successfully within the community.
“The travel aspect really stuck with me,” Key said. “The Northeast way of living is different, and Maine is even different. Seeing a different way of life really helped me. It motivated me to travel even more, just seeing different ways of life. I want to start a business in the future, so I’m going to have to manage those different ways of life if I’m working with people around the country or the world.”
The diversity of academic pursuits added to the experience. Students came from majors such as aerospace engineering, communications, accounting and political science. The faculty included Redger-Marquardt, assistant professor organizational leadership and learning and assistant dean in the Cohen Honors College, Dr. Bobby Berry assistant professor of sport management and assistant dean in the College of Applied Studies, Dr. Samantha Slade, associate professor of psychology, Dr. Cindi Mason, associate teaching professor industrial and manufacturing engineering, and Doug Stucky, assistant educator and director of curriculum and programs in the College of Innovation and Design.
“I worked with students and staff I wouldn’t have otherwise worked with,” VanDyke Jr. said. “Amazing experience. It really helped me enhance my leadership skills.”