If the resumes of the participants of the University of Memphis Emerging Leaders program read like a Who’s Who of American College Students, it’s because they are the presidents and officers of the Student Activities Council, the Student Government Association and various sororities and fraternities. They are the holders of impressive internships, winners of prestigious awards and all-around good students.
More than 20 years ago, Dr. Don Carson, then vice-president of student affairs and vice-provost of Enrollment Services at the U of M, conceived of an Emerging Leaders program where students weren’t just able to learn, but were pushed to be leaders of their peers and, eventually, of the greater community.
The students take classes together, serve the community together and, beginning recently, live together.
Next fall, the University of Memphis is expanding the successful program from 25 to 35 students in the new class.
“The program helps students cognitively understand what leadership is in the real world and develop unique skills that a lot of their peers don’t have,” says Justin Lawhead, associate dean of Student Leadership and Involvement and current head of the Emerging Leaders program. “And, we’re creating a network for the students to build on in the future.”
Living and learning for life
Rebecca Lewis thinks of herself as a peacock, with each colorful feather representing different strengths that together make a beautiful creation. At least, that’s what the sophomore said at her Emerging Leaders interview two years ago.
“They were all laughing,” she says of the Emerging Leaders scholars who interviewed her. “Serving, community service, leadership — that’s my heart.”
Lewis is one of the first of a new group of Emerging Leaders who are benefiting from the University’s “living and learning communities.” In this case, Lewis’ Emerging Leaders class all lived on two floors of Richardson Towers. For a year, they roomed together, ate together, attended class together and studied together.
“I wasn’t excited about it,” Lewis says. “But, I really enjoyed it because we bonded and went through the same things together. We built friendships not just for now, but for after college.”
As a senior at McGavock High School in Nashville, Lewis created and organized a leadership workshop for 1,200 student leaders within the Tennessee Association of Student Councils.
When a U of M recruiter called her attention to the Emerging Leaders program, the four-year student council member decided the program might be exactly right for her. The activity and leadership role requirements didn’t scare her.
“It was all things I was going to do anyway,” she says. “I was pretty confident walking in.”
Now, her activities are widely focused, from Campus Outreach and Frosh Camp to Alpha Gamma Delta sorority and working at a Kids Across America summer camp for inner-city children.
Though they are a diverse group in culture, background and personalities, Lewis thinks their living together makes her Emerging Leaders class a tighter group that works better together than they would otherwise.
“Not everyone is best friends but we’ve had the same experiences and are on the same page,” she says. “I think the classes that didn’t live together are in the same book, but not necessarily on the same page.”
But aren’t they all overachievers?
If an Emerging Leader can overachieve, Brandon Stewart has.
Instead of the required three speaker-events he was supposed to attend freshman year, he went to 12. The end-of-the-semester papers of most first-year Emerging Leaders are about two pages; Stewart’s was eight. At the end of his first year, Stewart had a 4.0 GPA.
“I took what the program told me to do and multiplied it,” Stewart says. “I had never had access to this type of information before, and I decided that since I had the access now, I should use it.”
That first semester was a harbinger of the next four years.
“I realized that it gave me as much knowledge in four months as it possibly could,” Stewart says. “I decided if I can do that in four months, what can I do in the next four? And I kept challenging myself.”
Meanwhile, as a walk-on with the football team, Stewart got his first start his sophomore year in a game against Tulane. He fielded five kickoffs and a long kickoff return before tearing his ACL.
“It seemed like the worst, but it actually was the best thing that could have happened,” he says.
With football out of the picture, Stewart concentrated on other things, such as an internship with the Tennessee State Senate in Sen. Ophelia Ford’s office. There he learned about politics, power, money and life in general.
“In the field, I learned it was a game,” he says. “But, out, I realized it wasn’t just a game, it’s people’s lives.”
By his junior year, Stewart realized he could graduate early but decided to take advantage of University life and the Emerging Leaders program. He upped his semester hours and is now on-track to graduate in May with degrees in English and Communications.
“The program teaches you,” he says. “All you have to do is learn the information and implement it. There is no way any student in Emerging Leaders can not do well outside the program.”
Stewart is interested in politics, but is making his way there as any Emerging Leader would — in his own, innovative style. Stewart plans on going through a five-year program for law and divinity, so that he can have the strong ethical background he sees missing from so many of today’s politicians.
“For me, I really want the divinity to go along with it,” he says. “Anyone can go into politics, but my goal is to be more spiritually grounded. I want to make sure I’m doing right for me, my people and my God.”
Worth it at twice the price
Christi Jones (BA ’06) didn’t need the Emerging Leaders scholarship. With her tuition fully paid by academic and twirling scholarships, she didn’t have to go to speakers every semester, take extra classes and push herself to take on more leadership responsibility.
She did anyway.
“I felt it would be good for me because I wanted to really get involved in the University,” Jones says. “I felt this would be a good way to grow, and it was worth every minute.”
When she started at the University, Jones said she was a bit shy and felt the program would give her an immediate “in” with a campus group. She didn’t realize it would push her to discover new groups and activities.
“I initially wanted to do SAC and campus improving stuff,” she says. “Then, I found out about Up ’til Dawn, the Student Ambassador Board, Alpha Gamma Delta ... it seemed like every week, there was another club that I heard about and I wanted to join.”
Jones became president of Alpha Gamma Delta, head camp counselor at Frosh Camp, ambassador to the president on the Student Ambassador Board and a senator on the Student Government Association, in addition to her four years as a twirler with the U of M’s band.
As a finance major, though, Jones’ junior year rolled around, and she still didn’t know what she wanted to do in life.
One of the speakers brought in for the Emerging Leaders was from FedEx and made the company sound interesting enough to peak Jones’ interest.
She found an internship online in the internal audit department, took a semester off from school and jetted off to Miami, New York and China.
“I got to find out about the corporate world and then come back to school and see how it all fit in,” she says. “I felt like the classes were easier, and I wanted to learn the material because it was applicable.”
Three of the interns, including Jones, were offered permanent positions with FedEx.
“I think Emerging Leaders helped me have the confidence to do what I did in college; I feel like I learned more through Emerging Leaders than I did through my classes,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do a lot but it made me want to do more.”
From freshman volunteer to Up ’til Dawn career
Two years ago, Amy Jackson (BA ’05) stood with five others in front of a room of screaming college students at 6 a.m.
The signs she and other executive board members held showed that year’s Up ’til Dawn fund-raising total — $114,000. At that point, it was the highest total ever raised at the U of M for Up ’til Dawn, a fund raiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“My leadership there was the apex of my college career,” says Jackson, who was executive chair of the Up ’til Dawn board that year. “I remember standing there, and, maybe it was the sleep deprivation, but I was thinking, ’This is what I was here to do.’”
Now, Jackson is a collegiate marketing representative for ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a position in which she oversees the Up ’til Dawn fund raiser nationally. With more schools adding the fund raiser and other changes, Jackson anticipates that this year will be the biggest yet.
Jackson entered the University in 2001, ready to be immersed in University culture. In addition to her roles with Up ’til Dawn, Jackson was a Freshman Orientation counselor and board member, vice-president of Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, Miss University of Memphis, an executive board member of the Student Activities Council and a finalist for the prestigious Truman scholarship.
“I fed off the competition of being around other leaders,” Jackson says. “In a healthy way, it challenged me to explore more and stretch myself.”
Though she started at the University wanting to be the next Katie Couric, Jackson’s Emerging Leaders experiences pushed her in a different direction.
“I never would have thought about non-profits or marketing as being something that I would love,” says Jackson, who graduated with a degree in public relations and a minor in non-profit management. “I think the program definitely helped me fine-tune and mature my idea of leadership.”
While working with Up ’til Dawn at the U of M, Jackson interviewed for an internship with ALSAC.
“Lo and behold, there was a guy who was an Emerging Leader,” Jackson says of her interviewer. “And he was married to an Emerging Leader who interviewed me for the scholarship in the first place.”
Her two-year internship developed into a permanent job when she graduated.
“The program is such an automatic door opener,” Jackson says. “If you surround yourself with leaders, you can only become one.”
Fully Emerged as a U.S. Attorney
In the fall of 1985, David Kustoff (BBA ’89, JD ’92) started his University career as one of 10 then-Leadership Scholars.
“I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything,” he says. “I have no doubt I made the right decision (to go to the U of M).”
In one of their first gatherings, Don Carson told the students the involvement required of them.
“He had us all in his office with two student leaders to talk, the head of the student activity council and the head of the student government association,” says Kustoff, who is now U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee. “I remember that first meeting.”
Kustoff joined SAC and took over as speakers’ chair his freshman year when an older student quit.
Then, Jim Strickland, the head of the SGA and someone who quickly became Kustoff’s close friend and later law office partner, got Kustoff involved in another organization, Alpha Tau Omega.
Ultimately, he became the first president when the chapter was re-chartered as well as the president of the student activities council.
“The organizations where I think I developed were Student Activities Council and Alpha Tau Omega,” Kustoff says. “No doubt that the scholarship under Dr. Carson was a real motivator and a large part to my getting involved in organizations on campus.”
Now, Kustoff sees benefits to the program that he didn’t see back then.
“I learned how to chair large meetings, to negotiate contracts ... I learned how to stage an event,” he says, recalling the night he brought Cpt. Jim Lovell to campus when a rainstorm cut the crowd numbers from an expected 500 to a mere 75. “Always put an event in a smaller room than you think you need.”
Kustoff values learning to develop long-term plans, manage a budget and deal with different personality types. Many of his friends today were made during college.
“It was a tremendous training ground,” he says. “It’s all building blocks, and I would not have been in those positions without the Leadership Scholars program.”
In his current position as U.S. Attorney, Kustoff is in the position to hire interns and said if an Emerging Leader applied, that person would get an extra glance.
“It tells me they are a special type of person with very strong qualities and an impeccable personality,” he says. “They’re the type of people you want involved in any organization.”
To learn more about the Emerging Leaders program, including how to apply, visit: http://saweb.memphis.edu/Leadership/EmergingLeaders.html