Innovative LEAD Program Enriches Students’ Experience

Students at William Woods University know that what occurs outside the classroom is just as important as what they are learning in class.

At this school in mid-Missouri, students enthusiastically attend lectures, art openings, horse shows, theatre productions, leadership workshops and athletic contests, thanks to the incentive of LEAD.

LEAD (Leading, Educating Achieving and Developing) is an innovative program intended to encourage and reward campus and community involvement that contributes to a complete, well-rounded liberal arts background. It has the added advantage of bringing an education at William Woods within reach of all students.

Now in its fourth year, LEAD has approximately 600 participants among the university’s 750 semester undergraduates. What’s more, the program is living up to its expectations, according to Venita Mitchell, dean of student life.

LEAD is designed to expand students’ interests and enrich their university experience. It is as simple as signing up—and showing up.

“William Woods University believes active involvement in campus life will make a student’s college experience more interesting and valuable,” Mitchell said. “In addition, taking the LEAD challenge makes college more financially manageable.”

Students who reside on campus receive $5,000, and students who commute receive $2,500. The LEAD program is available to any student, regardless of financial need, who agrees to make the commitment to campus and community involvement.

The commitment is simple. Students are required to accumulate a total of 45 points for the year and at least four points a month along the way. Sponsors of various events scan the students’ ID cards, crediting them with attendance, and students can monitor their progress on-line.

“The program helps ease students’ transition into college life by making it easier to become involved and attend activities,” Michelle Stephens, director of student success and transition, said. “A number of students have told me that it made it easier because everyone else was going, too, so you had something in common. It wasn’t a big deal if you were going by yourself because you knew there’d be lots of other people in the same boat.”

Barbie Banks, a junior from Pevely, Mo., agreed: “I like the LEAD program because, aside from it being an academic experience, it is a social experience. When there is a LEAD event you know you are going to see everyone.”

Jake Itegboje, a senior from Lagos, Nigeria, has accumulated the most points each year for the past three years. He said, “LEAD has introduced me to a number of cultural events that I would not have chosen to attend otherwise, and I’ve definitely enjoyed them.”

LEAD received both national and international media attention when it was first announced in 2000. The program was reported in numerous newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In addition, National Public Radio, the BBC in London and ABC in Melbourne covered it.

The Associated Press sent the story nationally with the lead “Log off the computer, log on to life,” referring to the tendency of many students to spend a large portion of their time on the Internet.

A Chicago Tribune columnist wrote, “The thinking behind it is sound and inventive.”

Not only did the program get rave reviews from the media when it was announced, but it continues to get recognition from sources off campus. For example, in 2001 the Saguaro Seminar cited it as “exemplary.” Funded by several of the nation’s leading foundations, the Saguaro Seminar was conducted under the auspices of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

During the 2002-03 academic year, 505 students started the LEAD program and 88.9 percent completed it successfully. A total of 485 LEAD events were offered, with each event assigned anywhere from .5 to 2 points.

The highest points for the year were awarded in the intellectual category, with 7,782 overall points, followed by 6,217 cultural, 2,118.5 personal development, 1,706 athletic/equestrian, 1,250 social/organizational, 863 recreational and 396 community service.

One of the objectives of LEAD is for faculty and staff to offer more opportunities for learning outside the classroom. As the program grows, more faculty and staff become involved. The percentage of events offered by faculty increased from 55.5 percent in 2000-01 (the first year of the program) to 78.6 percent in 2002-03 (the third year), and the number of faculty presenting an event rose from 36 to 58 during the same period.

Division and department chairs were asked to provide a rough estimate of the increase in the number of students attending events they had sponsored since the inception of LEAD. A program on study abroad experienced a 500 percent increase, while the international film series saw a 200 percent increase. Other areas reported anywhere from a 50 to 100 percent increase.

Another objective is for students to participate in academic programs outside their major or minor. The most obvious example of this is in the area of theater, which has 16 majors and four minors, but saw student attendance at plays rise from 89 to 588 from 2001 to 2003. Other areas most noticeably affected are legal studies (mock trials), history and business (speakers), art (exhibits), equestrian studies (horse shows) and interpreting/American Sign Language (deaf culture week).

William Woods University is an independent, professions-oriented, liberal arts institution serving the educational needs of both men and women. Since its founding in 1870, the mission of William Woods has been to provide a quality education while ensuring the development of the individual. The university offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in a variety of disciplines in both campus and outreach settings. It has a total enrollment of about 2,700 students.