Strong Student, Strong Leader

Seventh and final in a series of reflections on student life at West Texas A&M University.

Over the past six weeks, we have addressed many issues regarding the University’s responsibility to engage students in leadership experiences. The value of leadership is shown by its inclusion in our Student-Centered Philosophy. The student-centered institution inspires students to develop the attitudes and skills essential to a rewarding life of learning, leadership and service.” We said, “The University experience is preparation for larger, lifelong experiences as engaged citizens.” We hold fast to this concept. We suggested, “For students to engage in a rewarding and complete campus experience, little is more important than the foundation laid in the first year.” From the earliest experiences on a university campus, students need to value their time in and out of the formal learning setting. We observed, “The first action we take at WT is honesty and transparency about the cost of study, the opportunities for employment after graduation, and the value of “connecting” on campus.” For students to be successful as leaders, they need to persevere in completing their studies. The concept of engagement is critical to students learning leadership skills, and it is the shared responsibility of the University to provide engagement activities. Our shared wisdom is this: “Engagement is not just a college success strategy but a life skill.” We pointed out diverse capabilities that leaders showed, paramount among them, “An attribute of leadership is adaptability to change.And lastly, we recognized the importance of home ecology in producing leaders, “Children learned first to follow then grow as leaders when they left home, self-perpetuating the cycle of growing leaders and strong families.”

Providing these opportunities is the University’s job. But the student also has a job. It is abundantly clear that the best students often make strong leaders. For West Texas A&M University to be effective in helping students develop as leaders, our expectations of students and their roles need to be transparent.

Our expectations?

First, we expect students to be hard-working. The University experience at any worthwhile institution is not a cakewalk. Students typically spend between 15 and 17 hours a week outside of class studying. It is not enough. Two hours out of class for every hour in class is a better guidepost. For 15 credits, a student would need to spend between 30 and 45 hours a week getting ready, reviewing and absorbing, like a full-time job. That sounds like a lot. It is. Leaders work hard. Pity the student who does not have to work hard. “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” Proverbs 13:4, ESV

Second, responsibility in learning belongs to students. Teachers, the best of whom are mentors and guides for students, cannot accept responsibility for student learning. Success comes from earned and executed duty. Too much time playing the blame game rather than developing strength “…the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” Anne Frank

Third, students set goals. Not just about what happens next Friday night, but plans for what happens after 20 years of vocational investment. Students that surround themselves with other students who share aspirations, commitments, ideals and ideas will be more successful as students and in the workplace. Long-term goals are critical. Occupying time confounded by only amusements and social calendars is of little utility for students and leaders alike. “It is not enough to take steps which may someday lead to a goal; each step must be itself a goal and a step likewise.” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Fourth, students must be able to communicate beyond 140-character snippets. Thinking and writing in sentences, and paragraphs, constructing theses long and short, is a skill for effective communication. Good students communicate with their peers, faculty and co-workers. Write regularly, and look for opportunities to speak to others in small and large groups. “Communication is the sister of leadership.” John Adair

Fifth, successful students and leaders must be able to manage their time, energies and appetites. Advice abounds about the importance of time management. Likewise, managing energy and appetites is essential. When a group heads out for a party on Friday night, a committed student might have to choose to study instead of joining peers. Discipline separates the exceptional or standout from the merely marginal or mediocre. That is leadership. “I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.” Robert E. Lee

Sixth, hope for a positive future is the exercise of free will and the ultimate responsibility of every individual student and leader in a free society. Looking forward confidently will help create a frame of mind leading to accomplishment. “A leader is a dealer in hope.” Napoleon

We value student leadership. We hope our students will become strong leaders through their experience at the University. But, no matter the strength of our effort or the depth of programs provided, the student’s success in attaining their degree and becoming informed leaders lies in their hands.

Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/.

Mike Knox is the Vice President for Student Enrollment Engagement and Success at West Texas A&M University.

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