Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Profiles in Passion: Developing Future Leaders

You need a certain quality to be a leader, whether its in your industry, community or even in your own household.  Important leadership qualities incude understanding diversity, creating strong relationships in the community and reflecting your core values, but have you ever taken the time to consider where you gained that knowledge? Was it through trial and error? Did you learn from your parents? Did you have a teacher who influenced you?

At Missouri State University, students have the opportunity to gain real-world leadership experience through several campus-wide programs. “I take students who are good already and want to get great; who want to get better at leadership in general,” said Marissa Weaver, Associate Director of Student Engagement, who coordinates the leadership programs at MSU.

After getting her masters in education with a focus on student development, Marissa moved to Springfield from St. Louis to take a position as the Assistant Director of Student Activities for Greek Life. Through that position she began working with leadership student training, facilitating and speaking at national conferences and institutes. “I enjoyed working with the students and watching them grow. I especially enjoyed the leadership aspect, but not the disciplining,” said Marissa of her first position at MSU.

Universities were trending towards having leadership training opportunities, but MSU didn’t offer such a program. Marissa had planned on living in Springfield for just a few years and then moving on, but other universities that offered leadership programs didn’t interest her. Besides, she had learned to love what Springfield had to offer. “There were lots of great things going on here five years ago. I had to step back and look at the opportunity I had in Springfield,” she remembers. “I had fallen in love with Springfield, and all of the sudden I realized I didn’t want to leave.”

As with everything else in her life, Marissa embraced her strength of creating a solution to problems and developed a position for leadership training at the university. “I looked at what we should be doing and created a position from that need,” she noted. “I tend to fill needs as they come, and MSU had that need. They didn’t offer a program like this.”

MSU now has four leadership programs for students which include the nine year old Commerce Bank Emerging Leadership Program. Three of its newer programs were developed through Marissa’s guidance: the Hutchens SGA Leadership Scholarship, Network mentoring program, and Distinction in Public Affairs. Each program offers unique student benefit opportunities.

The Network program couples students with young professionals for a fresh perspective on entering the workforce as a new graduate; Leadership Scholarship is a two year program that helps educate the community; Emerging Leaders is a shorter, five week program for freshmen and sophomores and is offered twice annually; and Distinction in Public Affairs clarifies the mission of public affairs and creates awareness and understanding through real-world participation.

Marissa has a natural desire for advancement and is currently working towards her doctorate in educational leadership. “I’ve always been one of those people who has too many ideas of what I want to do, so just ask myself, ‘what’s next?’ I don’t strive for one particular position. That’s too limiting,” she explains. “As I educate myself, more opportunities will come my way. I trust the process and know I’ll be prepared when the opportunity shows itself.”

Marissa makes herself a role model, practicing the leadership opportunities she shares with her students. She is involved with the community through a variety of volunteer efforts including Big Brothers Big Sisters, fundraising for St. Jude’s, involvement in The Network, and serves on the board of Leadership Springfield.

She strives to enable others to reach their goals by connecting aspiring leaders and professionals with resources, people and opportunities. Educating future leaders on the three pillars of public affairs (cultural competence, community engagement and ethical leadership) is a part of her personal goal.  “Ethical leadership is pivotal in society, no matter what job or profession you are in, even if you’re a stay-at-home mom or dad,” explains Marissa. “All leadership education is valuable and transferable to any industry or profession.”

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