Can You Teach Leadership? UNK Class Aims to Do Just That

By ALYSSA SOBOTKA
UNK Communications

KEARNEY – A course at the University of Nebraska at Kearney helps students find their personal style as a leader while benefiting area communities in the process.

Susan Jensen, associate dean of UNK College of Business and Technology and management professor, began including leadership experience projects as part of the core curriculum for her Leadership: Skills, Applications, Research class. Students choose a topic they are passionate about for their class project.

Susan Jensen“Over the course of the semester [students] take on a leadership project, and most times it is unlike anything they’ve done before,” Jensen said.

According to Jensen, learning to become a leader isn’t something that can solely be done by sitting in a classroom listening to lectures.

“I started the project largely as I’m a firm believer that you can read about leadership, but to be able to really understand it as fully as you can, you really have to engage in leadership,” said Jensen.

Jensen has taught the class for six years, each year requiring the leadership experience component.

“I’m asking (students) to step out of their comfort zone a bit and really have an opportunity to put into practice what we talk about in the classroom,” she said.

One main criteria of the project is the requirement for students to work as co-leaders.

“It’s harder to lead with somebody than it is with yourself,” Jensen said. “I want students to get experience on how they can work collaboratively with another leader because we do so much of that in our day to day real life.”

Chris Dier and Allen Smith, both senior business majors from Kearney, whose project includes cleaning computers managed by the department of Business and Technology, can attest to the adversity of their leadership styles, but use it to their advantage.

“Allen has certain strengths and ways of looking at things that I don’t, and that helps me see the project in a different way,” Dier said.

Other leadership projects this semester include park cleanup to support the S.A.F.E. Center, rock climbing for breast cancer awareness, American culture info sessions by teaching international students about American culture, and an AgrAbility dinner, which helps raise awareness for farmers and ranchers with disabilities.

Other project requirements include having a minimum of four followers to give feedback on student’s leadership styles and abilities, submitting a report on how the project went and explaining what was learned from the process.

Jensen has expanded the project this year to include a self-evaluation component.

“I expanded the project to include more of a reflection component so the students … would really take the time and think about ‘Ok, what did I gain from that experience and how has that impacted the way I view myself, the way I view leadership,’” she said.

Jensen acknowledges the difficulty the projects can be for students, but notes how that frustration is an important part of the process.

“We learn an awful lot when we lead in situations that don’t go as planned,” she said.

In Dier and Smith’s case, the challenges have better prepared them to be a leader.

“It doesn’t matter how long you prepare for something, if something else comes in that interferes it can throw everything off,” Dier said. “You have to learn how to cope with that and counter it when adversity comes.”

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Source: Susan Jensen, 308.865.8189, jensensm1@unk.edu
Writer: Alyssa Sobotka, 402.340.8288, sobotkaae@lopers.unk.edu

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