Leadership program teaching students to turn dreams into reality

They never say no.

Vanessa Nunez

It might be difficult to find a program at a university where that’s the running joke among students. It’s not a joke though – students in the Leadership Institute at Washburn University are taught to dream big and then work to develop their dreams into reality.

“The program teaches students how far they can go and the opportunities they can create,” said Vanessa Nunez, a junior mass media major from Dodge City, Kan. “If you have an idea, everyone is so encouraging, and you are able to learn what being a leader really means.”

Nunez has seen quite a few times just how far she can take her ideas. She had never been east of Missouri before college, and since becoming a part of the Leadership Institute, she has participated in a Leadership Exchange in New Orleans and has done leadership presentations in Boston. 

The idea of learning through teaching is what Michael Gleason, the new director of the Washburn University Leadership Institute, wants to reinforce as he guides the next generation of Washburn leaders with both an academic and co-curricular focus.

With approximately 200 students involved in the Leadership Institute, Gleason said he’s hoping to expand upon the already exceptional Leadership Challenge event, a unique inter-scholastic and inter-collegiate leadership competition that provides high school and college students with an opportunity to participate in an organized competition that simulates real-life experiences. The combination of high school and college-age students allows the college students to learn about leadership through teaching the high school students and exposes the high school students to higher education.

Support for programs like the Leadership Institute is essential to keep these opportunities open for students and to attract more students to the program.

“Financial support would allow us to expand the number and amount of scholarships we provide for students,” said Gleason. “In addition, we could also expand some of our experiential learning opportunities such as leadership labs, leadership exchange and student conference attendance.”

Nunez, who receives a scholarship from the Leadership Institute as well as academic scholarships, said becoming a part of the Leadership Institute was a great decision because she was able to learn more about who she is, and she has had the opportunity to see younger students grow into leaders.

“In my first two years of involvement in the Institute, I was able to really understand what my values and beliefs are,” said Nunez. “Once you understand that about yourself, it can translate into many possibilities.”

A version of this story appeared in the August 2013 edition of The Ichabod