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Leadership Studies program challenges, equips students to make an impact in any career

October 1, 2013 | Ian Richardson

Dr. Jon Spence firmly believes that everyone is meant to make an impact. As Evangel’s director of Undergraduate Leadership Studies, he is helping students learn what that impact will look like for them.

Evangel’s leadership programs engage students in many ways, from offering the basic leadership course required for all campus leaders to providing an annual Student Leadership Forum dedicated to improving students’ leadership skills in a variety of areas.

Two program options

There are two programs at the forefront of Evangel’s Leadership Studies program: The Leadership minor and the Leadership Fellows program, which both provide students with leadership-oriented courses and practical leadership experiences.

The minor is an 18-credit program that consists of a series of leadership classes and a collection of electives from other disciplines. Spence says the minor is meant to complement any area of study.

“If they get this minor, it can enhance their other fields,” Spence says. “I really believe that with all my heart – that the things they are learning of how to really get the most out of their lives will enhance whatever it is that they choose to become.”

The Leadership Fellows program is designed for students who have already chosen another minor. Through the program, students take seven to 10 hours of leadership courses and participate in community service activities.

Spence led the team that began Evangel’s leadership programs in 2003. Last year, the program moved under the umbrella of Evangel’s Social Sciences Department, and this year Spence has returned to lead the program after leaving Evangel to spend six years at the helm of Evangel’s extension campus, the James River Leadership Campus.

“Dr. Spence brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the leadership program,” says Dr. Bryan Sanders, Social Sciences Department chair. “He is an extremely effective communicator and has a passion for developing leaders. He has a plan for growing the leadership programs that is very exciting.”

Sanders says that there are several reasons to participate in Evangel’s leadership programs, but that the most valuable are the skills students will gain and the opportunities to apply them.

Strengths-based approach

Spence says one of the most important skills leaders will learn is not just how to manage others, but how to manage themselves.

“You can’t lead others until you can lead yourself,” he says. “There are a lot of people that are thrown into leadership positions, but they disqualify themselves because they don’t take care of those things that will make them people of deep integrity here.”

To aid this, Evangel’s Leadership program takes a “strengths-based” approach to leadership education, using the Gallup’s Strengthsfinder 2.0. The Strengthsfinder is an exam that uses a series of questions and a list of 34 unique attributes – such as Responsibility, Adaptability and Discipline – to rank which strengths each student exemplifies.

leadership forum lunch session

Students lunch and learn at the annual leadership forum.

“As a society, we all spend an awful lot of time focused on what we don’t do well – what we don’t like about ourselves,” Spence says. “But the strengths education at its base is about motivation to use your giftings and strenths.”

At the beginning of their freshman year, all Evangel students take the Strengthsfinder exam to learn which ones are in their top five. These “Top 5 Strengths” are used in many ways throughout a student’s time at Evangel, especially the Leadership program. Spence, who coordinates the strengths program at Evangel, says this helps new students find an identity on campus.

“When students are coming in and they’ve uprooted from their norm, they’re with a whole group of peers wondering who they are and where they fit in,” Spence says. “Then they take this Strengths test, and suddenly illuminated are these things that at one point they may have said, ‘I’m really weird because I do this.’ But no, that’s just who they are.”

Esy Jurado, a senior Broadcasting major, has been in Evangel’s Leadership Fellows program since her freshman year. During the past three years, she has held several leadership positions with ECTV and KECC. She is currently the ECTV station manager and in her second year as KECC program director.

Jurado says that learning more about her top strength, “Achiever,” has enabled her to develop her strong points.

“The program helped me find my leadership style,” Jurado says. “They don’t simply give you a formula to be a good leader, nor do they tell you there is only one style of leadership. Through the program, I was able to utilize my set of skills, and it enabled me to not just play with my strengths but also explore my weaknesses and find ways to make them better.”

Along with educating students about their strengths, another main focus of the Leadership Fellows program is engaging students with community service opportunities. Students in the program log a total of 100 hours during their four years of college. Spence says that this requirement allows students to be creative with what they do, finding experience that is meaningful to them.

“Students around here are so good about this,” Spence says. “They’re looking to do something that makes a difference, and I’m thankful that we live in a day and age where that’s really important.”

Spence says that the leadership experience they gain and the knowledge of their strengths will help students as they continue to pursue their careers after college.

“When they sit across the table from someone who’s interviewing them, they can say, ‘This is what I learned in this experience,’ so that leadership is not something that just shows up on a resume, but it’s something that just comes out of their pores,” he says.

Whatever a student’s career after college will look like, Spence says that everyone is a leader.

“There are leaders on every layer,” he says. “And if we’re answering the call to obedience to God, we’re answering the call to lead.”

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