William Woods University’s unique LEAD program is celebrating its 10th anniversary this fall, and 832 students are enjoying the program that encourages and rewards campus and community involvement.
At this school in mid-Missouri, students are enthusiastically attending lectures, art exhibits, horse shows, theatre productions, leadership workshops and athletic contests, thanks to the incentive of LEAD.
In fact, in a recent national survey on student engagement, when first-year students were asked, “How often have you attended an art exhibit, play, dance, music, theater or other performance?” 86 percent of WWU’s students reported “often” or “very often.” That’s compared to 30 percent of all respondents.
LEAD (Leading, Educating, Achieving and Developing) is an innovative program intended to provide students with a complete, well-rounded liberal arts background. It has the added advantage of making William Woods more affordable.
“The goal,” according to WWU President Jahnae H. Barnett, “is to offer unique experiences to enrich students’ educational endeavors.”
Dr. Barnett, who has been president since 1990, said she wanted “to entice our students to take advantage of opportunities outside of their comfort zone, and outside of their individual area of interests.”
She says she remembers attending various cultural events—prior to LEAD—that attracted only a dozen or so students.
“I went to the executive cabinet and exclaimed, ‘this concern will be addressed, and this is how we can do it.’ Thus, the LEAD program was born, and in the fall of 2000, all new students had the opportunity to participate.”
By signing a contract with the university, students agree to participate in LEAD-designated events throughout the year. These might include international film series, inspirational speakers, an operatic performance, an equestrian event or a poetry reading. In exchange, they may earn a $5,000 tuition reduction—annually—for four years.
“The results have been fabulous,” Barnett said. “Most students tell me that they have developed an interest, or at least become acquainted with subjects they never would have without the encouragement of the LEAD program.”
LEAD began in the fall of 2000, with 199 students registered. Now in its 11th year, LEAD has attracted 832 participants this fall and is living up to its expectations, according to Venita Mitchell, dean of student life.
The program 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 earn a total of 45 points for the year and at least four points each 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.
Each year, a “LEAD champion” is named. It is the person who has accumulated more points than any other student. Interestingly enough, the champions have all been males—Jake Itegboje, Nathan Reed, Adam Dresden, Victor Calderon and Cory Harlan—and some have been repeat champions.
Originally from Nigeria and now living in Texas, Itegboje was the “LEAD champion” the first three years of the program. While all participants are required to get 45 points, he acquired 89 the first year, 94 the second and 109.5 the third.
The numbers have risen over the years. Harlan, the most recent recipient, earned 128.5 points last year.
“I think the greatest thing about LEAD,” Itegboje said, “was the incentive to go to something I would otherwise never have gone to on my own. It gave me a chance to make some great friends while I was there outside of my comfort zone at the time, until the entire school became my comfort zone. I had lots of fun doing it, and learned a lot.”
In addition to enriching their experiences, students frequently report that LEAD forces them to learn time-management skills so they earn their required points each month, while maintaining their class work and social activities.
During the 2009-10 academic year, 825 students started the LEAD program, and 89 percent completed it successfully. A total of 541 LEAD events were offered, with each event assigned anywhere from .5 to 2 points.