Turning Students into Leaders

Learn how college student leaders build their skills in the Emerging Leaders program.

At campuses like North Carolina State University, Lees-McRae College and the University of South Carolina Upstate, the Emerging Leaders program builds students’ confidence and equips them for careers after college.

How does an organization scale up to deliver training? Through The BB&T Leadership Institute, faculty and staff at nearly 20 colleges and universities have learned to facilitate the Emerging Leaders program on their own campuses. This multilocation model enables more students to build leadership skills during their undergraduate or graduate school years. See how the approach works at three institutions of higher learning.

Lees-McRae College

Banner Elk, North Carolina

In 2015, Lees-McRae College(opens in a new tab), a private college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, launched a new offering in its School of Business and Management: outdoor recreation management(opens in a new tab). This program teaches business skills to students who want to work in travel and tourism businesses, such as guided hike companies or rafting outfitters.

All outdoor recreation management majors and most business administration majors take Emerging Leaders, said Katie Wall, an assistant professor and the director of the BB&T Leadership Initiative(opens in a new tab) for Lees-McRae College.

“Students are surprised by the curriculum,” said Wall. “Most leadership programs ask students the same questions – like ‘How do you define a leader?’ and ‘What are your strengths as a leader?’ – and they just become boring to the students.

“The Emerging Leaders curriculum focuses on self-awareness,” said Wall. “Emerging Leaders helps our students understand what is meaningful to them. It helps them choose a career and get a job when they graduate.”

So far, 150 students have participated. Wall has also taught the program to approximately 40 faculty and staff. Why? “We had so many faculty and staff asking about the program that we had to offer it to them too,” she explained.

Now, Wall said, students, faculty and staff are “all speaking the same language. We can continue the messaging of Emerging Leaders in the classroom, in the hallway and on the athletic field.”

Wall maintains a connection to The BB&T Leadership Institute through emails “checking in and asking if I need help or if I have questions,” she explained. “The customer service is really wonderful.”

North Carolina State University

Raleigh, North Carolina

Emerging Leaders has been taught at North Carolina State University(opens in a new tab) since 2014. To date, nearly 150 students have participated(opens in a new tab).

It’s currently offered three times a year: two sessions to undergraduate students, mostly juniors and seniors, and one session to business school graduate students. “As students get closer to graduation, they’re thinking more about how they relate to others and how they are going to lead themselves,” explained Leigh Shamblin, director of leadership and professor of practice in the Poole College of Management(opens in a new tab); she oversees the program.

One of the chief lessons students who participate in the Emerging Leaders program learn is “finding out what kind of leadership qualities they have,” said Shamblin, “and what kind of leadership qualities they don’t have.”

Shamblin herself has also reaped benefits: “I learned that I had gotten stuck in my own mindset about who I am and what my limits are,” she said. “The Emerging Leaders training reminded me that I’m in charge.”

Using self-assessment is a shift from the grade-based assessment students have undergone for most of their academic lives. “It’s a nice equalizer for a class. We’re not making students feel wrong,” Shamblin noted. “We’re helping them learn about who they are and who they want to be. And we are giving them the tools to help them interact better with each other.”

Shamblin makes Emerging Leaders a key component of her Women as Leaders course, as well. One student who took the course told Shamblin how she uses the training: “The most important skill, which I use on an almost daily basis, is understanding my personal leadership preferences in [different] situations. This new understanding in behavior has helped me de-escalate several intense conversations, and I’ve seen a positive change in my ability to communicate with my co-workers.”

In the near future, the Poole College of Management intends to offer Emerging Leaders to more undergraduate and graduate students, and to Poole College of Management faculty and staff.

University of South Carolina Upstate

Spartanburg, South Carolina

What makes USC Upstate(opens in a new tab) unique? More than 60 percent of the students here are the first members of their family to attend college. “They have grit and determination,” said Sarah C. Butler, transfer advisor and student services coordinator.

“They often have a job in order to pay to go to school. They are leaders on the court or in the field, but they typically don’t realize what amazing persons they are or that they’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to their potential,” Butler noted. “After they attend Emerging Leaders, I definitely see an improvement in their confidence. What I often hear from students is, ‘I knew that about myself, but I didn’t really know. Now, it makes so much sense.’”

Emerging Leaders has been taught at USC Upstate since 2017, and counts a total of 115 business school(opens in a new tab) student participants from the twice-yearly sessions. Most are juniors and seniors who have been recommended by faculty. Few students turn down the opportunity: “Students say, ‘This is something I can actually use.’ The perennial question ‘When am I ever going to need this?’ – that’s not a question that comes up,” Butler explained.

Emerging Leaders will soon be open to all USC Upstate students, not just students in the business school.

Butler is excited to see the reach of leadership offerings widen on the campus. Some of the students who participate in Emerging Leaders are “struggling to find their place,” said Butler. “But the program has such an impact that it changes their mindset. They move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. To reset someone’s mindset, that’s amazing.”

By Jack Rosenberger 
Photography by Klaus Vedfelt, Getty Images

How to Train as a Program Facilitator for Your Campus

Are you interested in becoming an external facilitator of the Emerging Leaders program on your campus? The BB&T Leadership Institute hosts a summer training program for faculty and staff from partner colleges and universities.

For more information, please contact Student Leadership Programs Manager Brittany Brown: