NEWS — February 1, 2011 12:00 am

Leadership program brings many area colleges and community together

For Minnesota State Mankato students who want to push themselves, develop leadership skills and learn more about the business industry, the Leaders of Tomorrow program seems like a perfect program.

The organization, a joint effort between MSU’s Student Activities Office and Greater Mankato Growth, offers students a chance to meet and work with business leaders in the Mankato community while learning more about their own leadership skills and ways to grow further. About 15 MSU students participated in the program last semester, and all their hard work paid off: the program was recently selected as a silver medal honoree in the annual Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) awards competition.

“It’s really a collaborative sort of project and innovative in that regard, and I think that’s kind of what caught the eye of the folks who decide these awards,” said Ryan Yunkers, assistant director of Student Activities and coordinator for all Recognized Student Organizations.

Yunkers said Leaders of Tomorrow started a few years ago when area schools — MSU, Gustavus Adolphus College, Bethany Lutheran College, South Central College and Rasmussen College — decided to create one program for students to get real-world business and leadership experience.

“We kind of came together under the question of, ‘What can we do collaboratively better than we can do individually as colleges?'” Yunkers said.

Yunkers said the schools also decided to work with Greater Mankato Growth, which is Mankato’s Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development organization, because GMG could introduce students into the Mankato community and form partnerships with business professionals.

The program started off as the Greater Mankato Leadership Academy, but participation started to decline during the few years it was offered. Yunkers said last year, he decided to reorganize the whole program. He started talking with Christopher Corley, director of the MSU Honors Program, to see how the Leaders of Tomorrow program could help honors students reach their goal of becoming better leaders.

“What I looked at is, ‘How can we make this program align its goals… and curriculum and outcomes with what the Honors program is trying to do as far as its leadership outcomes?'” Yunkers said.

Working with the Honors Program, Yunkers came up with a new plan for the Leaders of Tomorrow program. Students would have leadership training, attend leadership seminars, read texts on leadership and have the opportunity to connect with business leaders in the Mankato area by participating in business open-houses and other events.

“For our students, it gives them a chance to learn more about the Mankato community, learn about these other businesses, and then, as they’re mingling around, rub elbows with some of the business professionals,” Yunkers said. “We’re getting people aware of their leadership skills [and] getting them some actual hands-on training.”

Corley said the Leaders of Tomorrow program worked extremely well with the MSU Honors Program’s goals.

“The Honors Program has been thrilled to work with student activities to develop co-curricular activities that link students’ classroom experiences to the professional world,” Corley said. “I hope that the honors students will continue to benefit from their experience for years to come.”

Not all students who were involved in Leaders of Tomorrow were MSU honors students, but most of them were. Natsua Asai was one of the honors students who participated in the program last semester. While she was not able to attend all the events offered, she said she still learned a lot.

“[Leaders of Tomorrow] is very focused on leadership, and I think it’s going to be useful when I start to work with American culture,” said Asai, an international student from Japan. “Some [business] rules are very different than Japan… so it is really helpful to understand.”

Asai said she attended a dinner to learn proper business etiquette and another event with games and teamwork to help students learn what their leadership strengths were and how to work better with others. She said one of the games revolved around solving a problem while her team wasn’t allowed to use words.

“That [game was] very interesting because my first language is not English and I also think that my English is not so good, so I think I’m not suitable to become a [leader] in the United States,” Asai explained. “But even without speaking English, I [could] do something for the team.”

For its innovation and leadership development, the Leaders of Tomorrow program was honored as a silver medal honoree in the 2010-2011 NASPA excellence awards, in the category of leadership and related in student union, student activities or Greek life. Programs could be nominated or apply. Yunkers said he applied for the award, but it was still a surprise when the program won.

“It was fantastic and quite [a] humbling honor,” he said. “[There were a] large number of applicants and nominations, so it was very flattering to get this award. It’s nice to have your work recognized once in a while.”

However, Yunkers said there is still a lot of work he wants to do on the program.

“My immediate thought was, ‘Well, I don’t know if we deserve this award yet, because it’s still an emerging program,'” he said. “We’re constantly looking to improve. Even though the award was very nice, we know there’s still a lot of work to do to make it a bigger program that touches more students

Yunkers said the Leaders of Tomorrow program is open to all MSU students. To find out more, students can visit mnsu.edu/activities.

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