First Look - Today's Leaders, Tomorrow's Innovators | Spring/Summer 2017

July 19, 2017

Mount Union is committed to fostering great leaders, so much so that the first academic program to be created as a result of the new strategic plan, Compass 2021: Mount Union’s Strategy to Lead, Collaborate, and Innovate, is a minor in leadership studies, which will be offered in the fall of 2017.

Planning for this new program began in the summer of 2016 when Dr. Mary Tolar, director of the Stanley School of Leadership Studies at Kansas State University and long-time colleague and friend of President Dick Merriman, visited Mount Union’s campus. During her visit, Tolar met with stakeholders and helped chart a course for the development of the leadership studies program. 

This academic program will consist of a core set of courses and electives and focus on hands-on, experiential learning opportunities in the community. Through this new minor, Mount Union students will continue to develop into outstanding leaders in their fields of study and prepare them to be active members in their communities. 

A Problem-Solving Force 

Working with an array of administrators, professors, and the surrounding community, Mike Kachilla, associate professor of management and director of entrepreneurial studies, has taken on the task of designing the leadership studies program. Currently, the program is solely academic in nature, but the University projects that as it progresses, other program elements such as lectures, symposia, and conferences will be added. 

At the beginning of his career in the United States Marines, Kachilla oversaw roughly 30 of his peers. By the end of his 20-year service, he was responsible for training more than 500 simultaneously. Couple this with the fact that he runs his own business, and it is easy to see why he is the director of entrepreneurial studies, and now the leadership studies minor, at Mount Union. With numerous opportunities to learn, lead, and strategize both in and out of the classroom, Kachilla knows it’s more important than ever that students understand different leadership styles, theories, and techniques.

“My time in the Marines taught me that before you can be a good leader, you have to learn how to be a good follower,” he explained. “You need to take responsibility for yourself and lead by example.”

The relationship between entrepreneurship and leadership is clear to Lauren Bissell ’18, a management and human resource management double major of Mantua, Ohio. She has seen her involvement on campus and personal confidence grow exponentially through her experiences. 

“Mount is great about making sure there are plenty of opportunities available to students to use those leadership skills.” Bissell said. “I love that I can be involved in multiple organizations and they work well with each other.”

For students as involved as Bissell, having the foundational understanding of what leadership is and what it can mean for her is crucial. Learning even rudimentary leadership skills and techniques can help students be more confident in the classroom and beyond. 

“I have grown into a more thoughtful and well-spoken leader during my time at Mount,” said Jack Heidenthal ’19, a sport business and marketing double major of Hilliard, Ohio. “When conflicts arise, I notice myself not rushing to judgment and leading both sides to a fair compromise.”

For Amy Strawser ’18, a marketing and public health double major of Strongsville, Ohio, these core leadership skills have helped her grow both in her major and personal life. After Kachilla asked her to represent Mount Union at a business competition, Strawser found herself becoming more confident and setting higher goals for herself. 

“The competition helped me become more excited about my major, develop into a better public speaker, and gain more confidence in other aspects of my life,” Strawser said. “It led to me becoming the president of Alpha Xi Delta and becoming more confident than I ever have been.”

Kachilla hopes that the leadership minor will help enrich and strengthen all areas of study on campus. As students’ understanding of leadership grows through the leadership studies minor, more students will be given the chance to engage in hands-on learning experiences. 

A Theoretical Foundation 

To begin developing the leadership studies minor, Kachilla met with the chair of each department on Mount Union’s campus to explain his vision and discuss its synergies with their programs. He explained that any course had the potential to be part of the leadership minor if it covered at least two of six predetermined skill areas: behavior, social, political, or organizational change in some manner; organizational culture; influence and power; problem solving; interpersonal and intergroup relationships; and individual or group communications.  

“We already have 13 departments represented among the electives for the minor,” Kachilla said. “Everything from art and foreign language to environmental studies and political science.”

The initial courses in the minor will utilize interactive class discussion and activities to aid students in a better understanding of their own leadership styles.

“So much of leadership is about reflection and knowing your own competencies and tendencies,” Kachilla said. “All of the classes involve heavy discussion and allow students to reflect on existing theories and models and how they relate to their own leadership styles.”

In the third required class for the leadership studies minor, students will take on projects and leadership positions both on and off campus. Working with a faculty member and site supervisor, students will reflect on their experiences in previous leadership courses to help them navigate these real-world opportunities. Through hands-on engagement in the form of service to others and thoughtful reflection, student leaders will recognize that service is worth far more than receiving a check or accumulating community service hours.

“In some of these experimental learning situations, students will be leaders, and in others, they will be followers,” Kachilla said. “Once you have seen both sides of this dynamic, you become a much better listener, learner, and problem-solver.”

For Madison Filipiak ’19, a marketing and public relations double major, this connection between classroom work and leadership opportunities has been very apparent. Filipiak has been able to move into leadership roles early in her college career because of the opportunities Mount Union has offered her and the skills she has learned thus far.

“My involvement on campus has led me to make so many connections with faculty members and other students that I would not have had otherwise,” Filipiak said. “As a leader, I try to make sure that other students’ involvement in the organizations in which I’m involved leads to their academic enhancement.”

Leadership Across Disciplines
As the director of student involvement and leadership, Dr. Kate Carnell ’00 was involved not only in how experiential electives fit into the minor, but in how the main courses will help supplement what she has been doing on campus for more than a decade. 

“The goal is to introduce students to concepts and situations they will see in any workplace,” Carnell said. “The mission is to help students make and see connections between what they are learning and how they can apply that at Mount Union and in the future.”

Peter Young ’18, a physics and mathematics double major of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has experienced the importance of these real-life learning moments first-hand, which has made his time at Mount Union more valuable. 

“Leadership roles at Mount have given me so many opportunities to grow as a person,” Young said. “They have given me new opportunities for jobs and positions on campus and have shown me areas in which I need to improve and areas in which I currently thrive.” 

While developing the experiential learning portion of the minor, Kachilla also worked with Abby Honaker ’10, the director of the Regula Center. Her connections to the community and surrounding areas through the Regula Scholars program are essential to securing future internships and leadership opportunities. 

“Allowing students access to this level of experiential learning is huge,” Honaker said. “Being able to offer this experience in an academic setting and with this support structure will help both the community and the University become stronger.”

Honaker knows that hands-on experience and community engagement will help set students apart when it comes to applying for jobs or graduate school, and the interdisciplinary nature of these experiences mean that this minor has nearly endless opportunities for future goals and careers.

Leading Into the Future
Although the minor has only just been approved, Kachilla hopes that it will help students become formal and informal leaders in their communities. 

“I hope this program gives students the confidence they need to make sure people in their communities are taken care of,” Kachilla explained. “If we can give students the tools they need to tackle these issues, they will be much more willing to take on these roles in their communities.” 

Chris Campbell ’19, an international affairs and diplomacy and German double major of Broadview Heights, Ohio, has already seen the benefits of learning to lead and how this can help inspire and teach others, even while he continues to learn and grow himself. 

“I’ve grown to realize that leadership is about learning and inspiring others to become leaders,” he said. “You have to continue growing to be a good leader and learn that we can’t fix problems all on our own. We need others to come together for a common goal and help others take on leadership roles of their own.”

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