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Institute Helps Students Grow as Leaders

The LeaderShape Institute of Champaign, Ill., states its mission is "to change the way people lead . . . one person at a time." For a group of students from the College of Engineering, that mission was accomplished times ten this summer.

With financial assistance from a Kellogg Foundation grant, ten undergraduates, representing a variety of organizations from within the college, joined another 44 of the nation's best students for this six-day leadership building program. The selection process was competitive, explains Kathy Luker of the Academic Affairs Office. "We were looking for students who are involved with organizations and who will be here for a while to implement what they learn." This was the first group from UW-Madison to participate in the program, which was founded in 1986.

While in Champaign, Institute participants were immersed in a group of 17- to 27-year-olds from diverse ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. Rather than sitting through classroom lectures, students were put in highly interactive situations. Throughout the course, everyone had a chance to be both teacher and learner.

Most of the work was done in a large group called the Learning Community or in small groups called Family Clusters. Friendships formed easily, and most participants knew all of the names of their group members by the end of the program.

People conferencing at table

Kathy Luker, right, of the Academic Affairs Office, discusses next summer's LeaderShape conference with two of the student planners, Jessica Rannow and Andrew Kroll. (26K JPG)

Another important area of the LeaderShape Institute was the Team Challenge Course, a half-day outdoor team-building experience that teaches trust, communication and group problem-solving. "At the end of this course," says Jessica Rannow, a sophomore industrial engineering major, "we--a group of strangers put together--were able to work together. We had trusted each other to help us all get over a wall using only our hands and a rope. After getting everyone over the wall, we realized how planning and cooperation are essential for teams to achieve their goals.

"I think the most important thing about LeaderShape is the unique experience everyone takes away from it," adds Rannow. "Everyone improves in their own ways and discovers things about themselves that they didn't know before."

In her own case, says Rannow, "I have improved my interpersonal skills and my understanding of teamwork. I use my skills every day in organizations, classes and my personal life." These skills, she says, include trusting other group members and giving them ownership in projects; offering effective feedback; leading with integrity; setting goals or visions; and remembering the importance of diversity.

Fellow participant C.J. Strehl, a junior chemical engineering major, says the experience he gained from LeaderShape has already enabled him to implement his vision with the Polygon Engineering Council, of which he is president. POLYGON includes representatives of all other major engineering organizations.

"We need to develop leadership at UW-Madison so that our student organizations will always have excellent leadership, and, most importantly, so that we have the highest quality student-run organizations in the nation," says Strehl.

To help reach this goal, the 10 LeaderShape participants have taken upon themselves a huge project -- bringing LeaderShape Inc. to Madison next summer. Dean John G. Bollinger recently approved their proposal to purchase the program's curriculum and hold a LeaderShape Institute at the St. Benedict's Center on Lake Mendota.

As part of the package, LeaderShape, Inc. will provide two course leaders, but the students must do all of the planning. They will select family cluster facilitators and guest leader panel members; produce a promotional page for the World Wide Web; schedule cars, buses and hotel reservations; and take care of all of the other logistical and administrative responsibilities that come with hosting such an event. Their hope is to enroll 40 engineering students and 10 students from the School of Business.

UW-Madison participants note that other schools -- such as Purdue, MIT and the University of Michigan -- have already implemented the LeaderShape Institute on their campuses and experienced great success, including new student organizations and increased student involvement in existing ones.

Corporations and individuals interested in helping bring the LeaderShape Institute to Madison next summer should call the Engineering Learning Center at 608/263-3248; send e-mail to; or write to 3629 Engineering Hall, 1415 Engineering Drive, Madison, WI 53706.