William Woods University’s LEAD program has again garnered national attention as a nominee for the 2011 ACE Network Award for the Advancement of Women in Higher Education.
LEAD (Leading, Educating, Achieving and Developing) is a program WWU created in 2000 to encourage and reward campus and community involvement. Students are enthusiastically attending lectures, art exhibits, horse shows, theatre productions, leadership workshops and athletic contests, thanks to the incentive of LEAD.
The ACE Network Award, given by the American Council on Education’s Office of Women in Higher Education, went to the Diversity Pipeline Initiative, Center for Gender Equity, University of California, San Francisco. Other universities recognized, in addition to WWU, were Iowa State University for its Center for Women and Politics, California State University-San Marcos for its Network Webinar Series and Virginia Tech for its Women’s Leadership and Mentoring Program.
LEAD 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.”
The program is working. 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.
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 LEADprogram.”
LEAD began in the fall of 2000, with 199 students registered. Now in its 11th year, LEAD attracted 832 participants last fall and is living up to its expectations, according to Venita Mitchell, dean of student life.
“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.”
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, a total of 541 LEAD events were offered. The largest number of events were classified as intellectual, with 143, followed by 138 cultural, 77 athletic, 52 personal development, 52 film, 49 social/organizational, 28 recreational and 12 community service.
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. It was covered by National Public Radio, the BBC in London and ABC in Melbourne. The Associated Press distributed the story nationally.
A Chicago Tribune columnist wrote that “the thinking behind it is sound and inventive.”
“We are proud that we can offer this program to our students,” Barnett said. “Participation in LEAD as an undergraduate student will, undoubtedly, result in a more fulfilling life after graduation.”
CUTLINE: William Woods University students build a sculpture of recycled materials as a LEAD project.