Raising Retention: iLEAD

In just a relatively short period of time, following administrative changes and the renaming of the former Institute for Leadership, the Institute for Leadership, Ethics, Achievement and Development (iLEAD) has completely rebranded itself with a new mission focused toward providing students the opportunity to “rise to their personal best.”

While iLEAD serves all students, Director Dana Sauers and Associate Director Michael Hoover hope that the organization will engender special relationships with specific populations including first years, transfers, commuters, probationary and international students.

Because these students are either entering college for the first time, have relocated to a different one, do not live on campus, may be struggling academically or are living in an entirely different nation, each population is subject to individual needs that must be attended to.

“Research says they [students] will stay if they feel connected and are successful,” Sauers says.

Since its transformation, iLEAD has developed numerous initiatives and programs that seeks to address each population’s needs.

A program continuing from before the institute’s transition is the Emerging Leaders Series. During this seven-week long extracurricular course, students learn about different leadership styles, traits and figures that will prepare them for future leadership opportunities on campus. Participants are usually nominated by their first-year symposium professor to participate in the series. Prior to this semester there has normally only been one section of participants, but now there are two.

When asked what Emerging Leaders has done for one student, junior Cameron Boyd replied, “What hasn’t it done?”

“The Emerging Leaders series really opened me up to taking charge and expressing my ideas as a leader and to fully embrace every opportunity that presented itself to me,” Boyd continued. “I believe that it was the icing on the cake that solidified my identity as a leader and servant. It has been a great experience that I would encourage everyone to take part in so that they too could solidify who they really are.”

The previously required Leadership Portfolio from the former Veritas curriculum is still available for seniors to take as an elective, with 35 students currently enrolled, in addition to a new credit-based practicum. This course gives students across all majors the ability to put their leadership skills to work in positions throughout the university for academic credit.

For students who are struggling academically, there are a couple of options offered for assistance. One, LEAD 100, is a remediation program connected to Learning Services that mandates student attendance of iLEAD events in the hopes of creating connections that will be empowering for probationary students.

The other is a course, Essentials of Writing and Speaking, designed to be a supplement to the first-year symposium for those who may have found it challenging, or those who were unable to take the symposium in their first semester (second semester transfers). The course concentrates on fortifying basic writing and oral presentation strategies while using leadership practices and theories as a foundation.

“This is a course I have asked for over the last six years!” Sauers mentioned, “It is the first of its kind to address these needs in this way.”

These are among the many initiatives iLEAD sponsors specifically with the intention to retain students by enabling them to grow as leaders. From monthly discussions on leadership (What’s the Leadership Buzz?) to bringing in guest speakers (Living Leadership); identifying leadership traits in films, holding special dinners for international students and cultivating leadership traits through the new chapter of the National Society for Leadership and Success, each program serves an intended purpose.

“So significant do we at iLEAD consider the need for retention, no plan we executed in building our new 2016-2017 programs was built without consideration of it,” Sauers stressed.

The development of these programs was greatly facilitated by the increased communication and support from people in various branches of the university.

Sauers and Hoover from iLEAD have particularly connected with Director Paula Whetsel-Ribeau of the Center for Student Engagement and Success (CSES) and Honors Director Jennifer Staiger to help develop first-year and honors student mentors.

Additionally, the admissions office is now including iLEAD as a “topic” to present to prospective students for the first time in the office’s history.

“Mike Post has been very helpful [in] requesting this particular connection and in building additional roadways in student life to extinguish the silos so we can work more effectively and efficiently together for student retention,” Sauers praised.

This “connecting the dots,” as Sauers describes it, whether they be from administration members, academic department heads, Learning Services, CSES or even Campus Ministry, not only helps iLEAD, but each of those branches provide students the resources they need to stay and remain successful at the Mount.
“We want them to come; we want them to stay – one more and most important thing…we pray,” Sauers emphasized.

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