Leadership for a New Generation

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Katy Armstrong

April 19, 2018

At the NASPA Annual Conference, I spent a great portion of the conference attending sessions around student leadership and developing student leadership programs on-campus.  While no two sessions were the same, something became quite clear:  Today’s college students need leadership programs delivered in new and innovative ways.

I am, what some might call, a student leadership nerd.  I “fan-girled” when I met Dr. Susan Komives during the Think Tank and Awards session.  I love the Leadership Challenge, relish the opportunity to lead any team builder, and the binding on my well-worn copy of “Leadership for a Better World” is beginning to break.  I built my professional career on supporting student leadership.  However, since attending the conference I recognize that it is not enough to understand leadership concepts if we cannot use these concepts to engage with our students.

Today’s generation are knowledgeable and passionate activists.  They demand action and they demand it now.  They live in a world where all the knowledge of the world lives in their pockets or in their backpacks.  They have a greater awareness of diversity, social justice, and difference.  This changing population may have new needs and desires in their leadership programming that we are just beginning to explore.

One session I attended, “Sense of Adventure Required! A Case Study of the Nation’s First Virtual Leadership Training Program for College Students”, hosted by Kent State University employees, provided an overview of the virtual leadership program they had developed to engage students from across different campuses in leadership development.  Presenters explained how they had created a virtual world, where students represented themselves through avatars and worked with each other through a variety of challenges and tasks.  The students who participated in the program knew nothing about each other (name, social identities, campus, etc.) until they met after the program was complete.  The employees shared how profound the impact of this virtual leadership world was for students. 

I remain struck by the method of delivery and the impact.  The students who were most impacted by the program were not the students traditionally captured by standard in person leadership programs and that is the point.  While leadership concepts and theories may be timeless, how they are delivered must change.  Finding ways to engage all identities of students in the conversation of leadership is not just important, it is vital to sustaining leadership programs on campus.

Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities explains, “…so in a world that is increasingly globally interdependent, and where rapidly changing technology means rapid obsolescence, the best that we can offer students today is the capacity to work with others who are different from themselves in diverse teams. And to be adaptable and flexible in a world where the jobs of the future have not yet been invented.” (Lynn Pasquerella, 2016).  The 2018 NASPA Annual Conference helped me recognize the importance of re-evaluating leadership programs to meet the ever-growing needs of students.

Ruark, J. (2016).  College Leaders Must Heed People’s Everyday Concerns. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/College-Leaders-Must-Heed/238717

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