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Leadership Program


  • Leadership Program
    (202) 885-2308
    Ward Circle Building, Room 250

    Margaret Marr

Mailing Address
SPA Leadership Class at MLK Memorial

"I do not think I would be the person who I am today had I not been part of the SPA Leadership Program at American University."
-Seth Cutter ('10)

Program Overview

The SPA Leadership Program, created in 1990, offers students the experience, skills, and knowledge to prepare them for leadership roles in public service and in life.

Following a competitive application process, students advance together through the four-year, 15-unit course of study that culminates in a Certificate in Advanced Leadership Studies. Topics covered include theories of leadership, famous leaders, social justice, ethics, negotiation, conflict resolution, public speaking, teamwork, and community-based learning.

First year

Students meet once a week in class to study leaders and leadership skills, such as public speaking, team-work and effective communication.

First-year students apply these skills outside the classroom as they work in small groups to design and execute social action projects of their own making. Social action projects allow students to learn about pressing social issues and work successfully with others to create pathways to change. First-year students are also paired with an older Leadership student who acts as a mentor to help guide the student through the first year of college.

Second year

Second-year students build on the skills and knowledge developed in the first year. Sophomores work on social issues they are passionate about to individually design and implement a social action project to address that issue, collaborating with others outside the Leadership Program. In the process, they learn practical skills including grant-writing, public speaking, debate, resume writing, and networking. They also work to acquire a life skill of interest to them, such as cooking and observe sub-cultures unfamiliar to them.

In class they take several personality assessments, engage in negotiation simulations, and study leadership theory, social movements, theories of social change, and controversial issues in public policy. Each sophomore is also paired with a mentor outside of AU, a professional working in an area of interest to the Leadership student.

Third year

Juniors take advantage of the unique opportunities Washington, D.C., afford in the fall semester 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 Party, political consulting firms, lobbying firms, non-profit advocacy organizations, think-tanks, or news outlets such as CNN, NBC, or NPR. They earn six academic credits in a special internship class, using their internships to explore organizational behavior and theory.

Fourth year

After a year off to allow students to study abroad, seniors return in their last semester to complete the program with a specially-tailored, three-credit seminar emphasizing a multi-disciplinary examination of classic leadership literature and contemporary leadership strategies.

Throughout the Program, day and overnight trips are organized by the students to locations related to their studies. These and other activities enhance learning and deepen relationships between students. What students in the Leadership Program share is a deep commitment to making the world a better place, a strong desire to acquire the skills necessary to do so, and a willingness to work hard to achieve this important goal.

Class of 2019

The application will be available in the early summer of 2015. Read about how to apply »