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Leadership Program

Leadership Program Curriculum Spring 2015

“The Leadership Program is learning to lead from the best, with the best. Your peers become your teachers and your best friends.”
- Hannah Murphy (’13)


Certificate in Advanced Leadership Studies

First Year

SPA-361 Laboratory in Leadership Development I
Weekly class meetings and small group work on public affairs research project. Taken fall and spring semesters of first year for 1 credit hour each term.

Students meet once a week in class to learn the hard and soft skills of leadership, such as resume preparation, learning the stages of research, team-work, communication and public speaking.

First-year students work in small groups to design a public affairs research projects of their own making. These projects allow students to learn about pressing public affairs issues and work successfully with others to identify policy solutions. First-year students are also paired with an upperclassman in the program who acts as a leadership coach; the goal is to help guide the student through the first year of college.

Course readings consider the complex and dynamic relation between leadership, politics, and power. It starts with an analysis of the key theories of leadership, and then examines particular leaders, such as Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Rosa Parks.

The class will also welcome occasional team-building leadership development activities in association with Student Life. Such activities could include the skills of negotiation, communication, and group dynamics.

Second Year

SPA-362 Laboratory in Leadership Development II
Weekly class meetings and individual public affairs research project. Taken fall and spring semesters of second year for 1 credit hour each term.

Second-year students build on the hard and soft skills of leadership developed in the first year. Sophomores work on a public affairs problem that has peaked their curiosity. They design and carry out a public affairs research project to address that problem. In the process, they learn practical skills including grant-writing, public speaking, debate, resume writing, and networking.

The focus of class lectures and readings is the role of decision-making and leadership in the nation-state system, with emphasis on the factors governing the behavior and interaction of states. Co-curricular activities may include visits to global institutions in Washington (embassies, World Bank, Organization for Latin American States). Students are invited to learn about countries and cultures unfamiliar to them.

The class will also welcome occasional team-building leadership development activities in association with Student Life. Such activities could include personality assessments and negotiation simulations.

Each sophomore may also also paired with a leadership mentor outside of American University; ideally, a professional working in an area of interest to the student.

Third Year

GOVT/JLC-391 Internship: Leadership
Weekly seminars to study organizational behavior in conjunction with an internship. Taken fall or spring semester after first four semesters for between 3 and 6 credit hours.

Juniors take advantage of the unique opportunities Washington, D.C. affords by pursuing an internship in one of the many public and private organizations located in the nation’s capital, such as the White House, the National Republican or Democratic Parties, political consulting firms, lobbying firms, non-profit advocacy organizations, think-tanks, or national media news outlets. Students earn between three and six academic credits in a special internship class, using their internships to explore organizational behavior and theory.

Fourth Year

GOVT-460 Political & Organizational Leadership
Weekly capstone seminar. Taken spring semester during final year for 3 credit hours.

This is capstone course in the certificate program examines political and organizational leadership: how they act, interact, and are influenced by factors within and beyond them. Class readings and discussions employ various perspectives and case studies to gain practical insight into the behavior of, and the challenges facing, authoritative institutional actors. The first part of the course examines the key theoretical concerns of the fields of leadership, bureaucracy, and public policy. These include transformational and transactional leadership, political institutions, agenda-setting and agenda control, issue-framing, path dependence, and American exceptionalism. Research presentations and class discussion will take place during the second part of the course.


Students may take a leadership-related course (see electives list above), be a teaching assistant, or complete an independent study in leadership development to earn the remainder of the 15 credit hours needed.

Total Credits: 15


  • COMM-310 Public Speaking
  • GOVT-320 The Presidency
  • GOVT-403 Ancient Political Thought
  • GOVT-405 Modern Political Thought
  • GOVT-409 Contemporary Political Thought
  • GOVT-484 Women & Political Leadership
  • GOVT-520 Advanced Studies in Campaign Management
  • GOVT-523 The Art & Craft of Lobbying
  • JLC-308 Justice, Morality, and the Law
  • JLC-309 Justice & Public Policy
  • JLC-405 Comparative Criminology & Criminal Justice
  • MGMT-360 Nonprofit & Social Entrepreneurship
  • MGMT-409 Leading High Performance Teams
  • PUAD-343 Introduction to Public Administration & Governance
  • SISU-368 Differences & Similarities in Conflict Resolution
  • SOCY-354 White Privilege & Social Justice