The Leadership Program

When I was accepted to CNU in the fall of 2009, I made my acceptance in the President’s Leadership Program (PLP) a major factor in my final decision of attending CNU. That said, even then I was not entirely sure what PLP would entail. The program advertises itself well, but what you get out of the PLP program is harder to explain than any pamphlet can tell you.

The minor in leadership studies you attain through PLP is not directly going to make you a better leader. Yet, one of the most valuable things I have learned in any of my leadership classes is that you can’t teach leadership. Spoiler alert: I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t pursue the leadership studies minor at CNU. I will tell you that it is not for everyone. The PLP class of 2014 has been losing members since my freshman year. I suspect this is a result of a false expectation freshmen have when joining the program. I’ll give you three reasons why I think students drop out of PLP:

1. The classes are very challenging. I know that as a freshman I thought to myself, “Self, you are taking a class in leadership. This is going to be a breeze.” False. With the exception of the first class-and-a-half, leadership classes have consistently been the most difficult classes I have taken each semester. Each class involves a lot of papers, very in-depth and complex readings that often take as long as writing a good paper, and the professors demand a lot. There are countless leadership theories and none of them are definitively correct. It is a kind of science that is not an exact science. Many of the classes require rote memorization as well as conceptual understanding.

2. Volunteering hours can be a hassle if your heart isn’t in it. PLP requires members to volunteer a certain number of hours toward community service each year. This really isn’t much of a problem for those who get involved early in their first semester in an effort they enjoy. For those who wait to get started on volunteering, or who can’t find something they enjoy, this requirement can become an unfortunate annoyance. If you are forcing yourself to commit what few spare hours you have to something you don’t want to be involved in, then the volunteering requirement isn’t meeting its intended goal and could just result in you leaving the program.

3. They only joined for scholarship money or because the program is “prestigious.” Students who join PLP because they get an extra scholarship or because they have only heard recruiters talk about how prestigious, important or impressive the program is (and nothing else) tend to consider dropping more often. If you are not interested in the study of leadership, then the monetary incentive is not worth the time and effort the program requires. The same goes for the incentive of having something nice on your resume. If you don’t want to learn the in-depth leadership theories and social science behind them, you should find other resume boosters that are more worth your time.

Now let me give you the three key reasons for joining PLP, and why I think it is one of the best programs for someone like myself.

1. The leadership faculty are among the most invested and committed professors at this (or any) university. PLP has been evolving every year I have been a member, which can be frustrating at times, but for the faculty, it is a challenge and an opportunity to leave a lasting mark on the program. Every leadership professor I have had has been committed to putting as much into their class as possible. My Leadership Theory class was as overwhelming as the rest of my courses combined, but by the end of the semester I had learned more than I thought I possibly could. It was like going into a calculus class with no knowledge of math besides the fact that it involved number,s and walking out with a B+.

2. It gets better. If you told me when I was halfway through my Group Leadership class freshman year that I would get an A and would be able to talk intelligently on everything from social exchange theory to Kellerman’s philosophical doubts about the basis of the “leadership industry,” I probably would have looked at you like you were trying to explain to me why Adele’s voice is not as impressive as Rebecca Black’s, yet I did get that A, and by the end of the last class for my leadership studies minor I had a pretty good idea of what I was talking about.

3. It’ll bring out the best in you. Through PLP I got involved in volunteering with the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia (a state-sponsored program aimed at providing legal services to people who cannot afford private attorneys). I also began volunteering at a similar program back home in Maine during school breaks. It was through a leadership professor that I was introduced to the Student Honor Council, a significant student organization of which I am now the president. Through PLP’s involvement requirement I was encouraged to join Trebled Youth, one of CNU’s talented a cappella groups. The groups I am involved in, the effort I put into my work, and my understanding of people and groups have all been influenced in some way through my involvement in PLP.

The President’s Leadership Program isn’t for everyone. The classes revolve around an intricate social science that hasn’t been fully dissected yet. The expectations from the program can seem overwhelming at first, and it is easy to (incorrectly) expect that when you enter the program that you will walk out of it a certified leader. Yet if studying different, conflicting views of leadership interests you and you want to be encouraged to get involved in the CNU and the Newport News community, and if you want to learn alongside some of the best faculty at the University, then you should definitely consider PLP. I’m glad I stuck with it.

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