Thursday, May 29, 2014

[612] MTSU institute attracts budding leaders across disciplines

For MTSU rising junior Joshua Pentecost, attending the Institute of Leadership Excellence on campus recently added another level of useful knowledge he’ll carry into his eventual career.

An undeclared major from Kitchener, Ontario, in Canada, Pentecost was nominated by his English professor to attend the weeklong program of the University Honors College, started in 2006 and held each spring in the Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building on the MTSU campus.

“I’d heard really good things about it from people who had attended before,” Pentecost said. “It’s very diverse in the backgrounds that people bring into it, the different perspectives. I’ve enjoyed all those times of getting to talk to my fellow students.”

Dr. David Foote, institute director and associate dean for the Jones College of Business, said students earn three credit hours for attending the institute, with some colleges allowing the course to substitute for an upper level course within a particular major.

Students study leadership theory and practice through a combination of lecture, discussion, activities, speakers and interaction with classmates. Pentecost’s experience during the May 12-16 course this year prompted him to think about leadership issues that he hadn’t thought of previously.

“One of the things we talked about on the first day was the idea of managing versus leading,” he said. “Is there a difference and if so, what are the differences?”

During one session, the topic was how leaders can motivate others, and after students watched a short clip from the 1991 comedy “Office Space” in a classroom just down the hall, the lively group returned to the Honors College amphitheater for an interesting discussion on what motivates employees to perform their best.

Leading the discussion was Dr. Earl Thomas, faculty coordinator for the institute and a professor of management in the Jones College. Thomas served as one of the lecturers throughout the week, and after showing a number of slides highlighting research and theories surrounding employee motivation, he opened the floor.

What followed was a rapid-fire discussion, with some students pointing to money as an important motivator, while others pointed to personal satisfaction and fulfillment and still others to challenging work and/or some combination of these and other factors. The point was to help students tap into their own leadership potential and understand the factors at play when they assume leadership roles.

But as much as anything, the program “is about life,” said Foote, who facilitated this year’s course with Thomas and Dr. Deana Raffo, an assistant professor of management and marketing in the Jones College.

Pentecost said he has an internship this summer with an international business, which is the career field he eventually wants to enter upon graduation.

While his grandparents live in Murfreesboro, his father’s work as an international educator took the family to locales around the world over the years. Pentecost wants to work for a company that goes into war-torn areas to help those communities rebuild and recover.

“I grew up in Central Asia and several countries that were having to rebuild after war, and there’s a lot of rebuilding that has to go on,” he said. “I want to go in and be a part of building up and helping stabilize.”

Faculty nominate students during the fall semester, with roughly 140 nominees submitted for this year’s class. That number was narrowed to the 33 students who were selected for the latest course — upper level students with majors ranging from biology to psychology and from history to political science to aerospace.

“They always talk about how exciting it is and how interesting it is to be sitting next to someone from an entirely different college who has a very different view on life … but they’re all talking about leadership,” Foote said. “One of the really cool things is you have a chemistry major sitting next to an art major sitting next to a marketing major, talking about leadership from completely different perspectives.”

Foote noted that some colleges across the university have increased support for the program by providing scholarships, either partial or full, to allow students to attend.

Cheyenne Platt, a rising senior foreign language major from Lewisburg, Tennessee, said the institute provided practical knowledge that she plans to use immediately in her job as manager of a local coffee shop.

“I’ve been put in positions of leadership recently at work and with organizations on campus,” Platt said. “I really wanted an opportunity to learn more and synthesize my real life experiences at the moment. I want to learn how I can improve my own leadership abilities in those positions.”

Rising senior Carly Davis of Murfreesboro said she’s using the class credits to fulfill an upper division honors requirement. But the biology major, who is minoring in secondary education also, expects to benefit beyond graduation.

“I really want to take this into the classroom of high school students,” Davis said. “Leadership skills are an important part of personal development and finding out what you stand for.”

Anna Neal, also a rising senior, is studying biology with a concentration in zoology and a minor in agriculture. The Rockvale, Tennessee, resident also attended the institute to satisfy a class credit, but she wanted to learn more about leadership and how to motivate and inspire others as well.

She and her classmates were impressed with the interdisciplinary approach to the institute, including the use of leadership examples and speakers that went beyond well-known models such as the late Steve Jobs of Apple fame. Now organizations are moving away from more authoritarian structures and toward servant leadership models that place more value on developing relationships.

“The best way to motivate or inspire someone is to come alongside them and help them achieve their potential,” she said, adding that she plans to use the knowledge gained at the institute to support interns and help students interested in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

The institute typically features a diversity of accomplished guest speakers from a cross section of professions. Among this year’s speakers were founders of the Rutherford CABLE women’s professional networking group; a former Bridgestone corporate executive; a diversity advocate and entrepreneur; and a music industry attorney.

“We did not want it to be the standard sort of lecture course,” Foote said. “There’s a lot of give and take between the presenters and the students. That’s a big part of it. And because of that, we learn a lot from the students.”

For more information about the institute, visit

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