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Leadership Program

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“I cannot count the number of times I have taken a concept that I learned from this program and applied it to a real-life leadership situation in the classroom, on campus, or at work. I feel more prepared to assert myself as a young professional in Washington, DC after completing the Leadership Program.”
- Zach Baldwin (’14)

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.

Following a competitive application process, students complete the four- year, 15-credit course of study that culminates in a Certificate in Advanced Leadership Studies.

Following American University's Statement of Common Purpose (namely, "the central commitment of American University is to the development of thoughtful, responsible human beings in the context of a challenging yet supportive academic community)", the SPA leadership program seeks to (1) foster "interdisciplinary inquiry transcending traditional boundaries among academic disciplines and between administrative units," (2) encourage "research and creative endeavors consistent with its distinctive mission, generating new knowledge beneficial to society," and (3) encourage the "practical application of knowledge through experiential learning, taking full advantage of the resources of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area."

First, "interdisciplinary inquiry transcending traditional boundaries among academic disciplines and between administrative units."

SPA 361 and 362 (leadership labs) are focused on the hard and soft skills of leadership. Leadership hard skills are usually related to professional knowledge that allow us to work within our profession (i.e. resume preparation, preparing a letter of introduction, and speaking clearly and fluently to your advisor about your goals). Leadership soft skills include the our social, communication, and self-management behaviors, including public speaking. The labs are designed to prepare students for leadership roles and challenges they will face in their future work and careers, and will feature interactive discussions, guest speakers, case studies, group activities, assigned readings and writings, other electronic resources, and shared experiences of class participants. Students will develop their intellectual, interpersonal, and social skills through class activities. The labs will also take full advantage of the resources of American University, among academic disciplines and between administrative units. Students will have a tutorial of the research resources at the library. The labs will also feature a number of visits from offices across campus: career services will run a resume building lab. We will also welcome a visit from the Office of Merit Awards to prepare our students to apply for national awards. Students will be introduced to how design and build their four year SPA Leadership Portfolio.

Second, "research and creative endeavors consistent with its distinctive mission, generating new knowledge beneficial to society."

First-year students work in small groups to design 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. Second-year students 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 overall objective of this project is to create "research and creative endeavors consistent with its distinctive mission, generating new knowledge beneficial to society."

Third, to encourage the "practical application of knowledge through experiential learning, taking full advantage of the resources of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area."

In order to prepare students for leadership roles in public service, the Leadership Program is designed to connect theory to practice. Course readings and class discussion in the first year considers 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 role of decision-making and leadership in the nation-state system, with emphasis on the factors governing the behavior of world leaders, is studied in the second year; political and organizational leadership: how they act, interact, and are influenced by factors within and beyond them, in examined in the senior capstone course. The third year internship course allows students to experience the actual workings of a DC-based organization.

Throughout the course of studies, students are encouraged to actively engage leaders and their causes, leadership theory, and best leadership practices, trying always to apply what is taught in the classroom to the larger world. Developed over four years, the SPA Leadership Portfolio will contain relevant professional, curricular and co-curricular materials for each student. Students will publicly present their leadership portfolios in the spring term of their senior year.

We also strive to build fellowship among leadership students. Co-curricular activities organized by students throughout the undergraduate years seek to take full advantage of the Washington, DC metropolitan area. These and other activities enhance learning and friendships among students.

By the Numbers

Of the 32 students in the Leadership Program's Class of 2015: 

Class of 2019

The Leadership Program application for the Class of 2019 closed on July 22, 2015. Future classes can still learn how to apply here »

96

Leadership roles held on campus.

132

Internships during their undergraduate studies.

14K

Hours devoted to service during their undergraduate studies.