Educating Today’s Leaders for a Tomorrow: the SPA Leadership Program
A Truman Scholar, three Teach for America Corps members, and a Gallop Polling Associate, work along side a student who yearns to return to her native Nigeria to rid it of corruption, but who fears for her life if she does. They are joined by a student who aspires to work for the Red Cross as a disaster relief specialist in Afghanistan, and by another named—while still an AU student—as among the five most important people in American politics not running for President. Together in their final year of the Leadership Program in the School of Public Affairs, they plot a course for a brighter future for us all.
The SPA Leadership Program offers them a hands-on approach to learning leadership. The Program, established in 1990, strives to give its students the experience, knowledge, and skills to prepare them to assume leadership roles in public service.
After a competitive application process, 35 students advance together through the four-year program. They design and implement community service projects, write grant proposals, hone their public speaking skills, and intern in myriad governmental and non-governmental agencies in DC. In class, students study leaders, leadership theory, social movements, public policy, effective communication and negotiation.
“You come into the Leadership Program ready to learn about others and how they lead effectively, but you end up learning a lot more about yourself, your goals, and how to shape them for the betterment of society,” explained a first-year student, Amanda Merkwae, SPA/BA’12. “It has given me the opportunity to develop my leadership style in an atmosphere that fosters acceptance, learning, and personal development,” added Sophomore Kristen Pionati, SPA/BA’10.
Truman Scholar Molly Kenney, SPA/BA’09 cited the Program’s contribution to her successful pursuit of the prestigious award. “The Program has helped me to define my strengths and weaknesses as a leader, and in doing so, caused me to become more confident in my ability to affect social change by mobilizing those who share my passions,” she said.
Leadership students go on to a wide variety of careers in law, politics and non-governmental organizations, better prepared for success. After his campaign work this fall for the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, Elliot Friedman, SPA/BA’09 commented, “What I learned from the campaign was truly straight out of our Leadership class, in that everything you do is about group dynamics, relationships and managing people.”
The Program attracts diverse students. “Sitting next to me may be a political activist, a feminist, a gay rights activist, a conservative, a liberal or an independent,” observed first year student Nate Bronstein, SPA/BA’12. “We encourage our students to see their commonality. What they share,” noted Program Director Margaret Marr, “is a common desire to make the world a better place and a willingness to work hard to achieve it.”
That observation is shared by her students. Senior Erika Langhart, SPA/BA’09 explained, “The Leadership Program provides the unique opportunity to work and learn with the same people for all four years at AU, which provides for lifelong friendships with other students who are dedicated to changing the world.”
The Program’s philosophy is built around servant leadership and citizen leadership. Marr offered, “The best leadership comes from love. Philia, Aristotle called it. Students in the SPA Leadership Program embody that love. It is a privilege to work with them.”