Blogpost: Strengthening the capacity of college students as future leaders and agents of social change

By Lara Kovacheff Badke, Doctoral Candidate – Higher Education

Higher education plays a major role in shaping our society’s leaders.  College students spend a considerable amount of time engaging in both explicit (classroom experiences; service-learning) and implicit (team projects; holding down a job while juggling school responsibilities) forms of leadership development during their college experience.  These opportunities empower students to nurture talents and attitudes that contribute to making positive changes in society.  The philosophy and forms of campus leadership development vary considerably from school to school, even program to program.

Different philosophical approaches of leadership development might include an emotionally intelligent leadership design that focuses on consciousness of self, others, and content, or a critical thinking model that centers on developing the skills required to evaluate claims, distinguish high quality arguments, and advocate beliefs.  Increasingly, campus programs explicitly express an interest in enacting social change from multiple perspectives, often adopting the Social Change Model of Leadership Development (Higher Education Research Institute, 1996. Guidebook for a Social Change Model of Leadership Development. Los Angeles, CA: Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California) to do so.

At the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good, we are both committed to the leadership development of our students and staff, as well as consciously engaged in projects containing an explicit leadership focus.  One of our current projects has our Community Engagement Team examining best practices in undergraduate leadership development programs.  Moving beyond traditional models, our team is addressing the understudied and emerging area of academic-community partnerships that focus on the leadership skills necessary to advance urban community change.  While college students have numerous opportunities through selective courses, general education immersion, extracurricular programming, and mixed mediums for student leadership development, little rigorous scholarship has examined leadership development intended to improve social and economic outcomes within urban communities.  Through an examination of scholarly validity, pedagogical application, and community engagement, our team is researching current practices across higher education and analyzing the effects of leadership development on social change.  In doing so, we have learned much about leadership programs and its assumptions.  As future generations of college students continue to be exposed to leadership initiatives designed to produce effective solutions to social problems, we are excited to be on the forefront of advancing scholarship and practice designed to help faculty, students, administrators, staff, and community partners increase their abilities to connect leadership development with meaningful urban community change.

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