Launched in 2013, the The University of Olivet President’s Leadership Institute develops top leadership among Olivet’s students, helping them to become the principal professional and community leaders of the future. As the fifth PLI class is approaching graduation on March 22, 2017, fellows of the first and second classes are now established professionals in their careers or pursuing further education.
The college partnered with experienced professionals that specialize in business coaching and professional development, to design a program catered specifically to Olivet students. The institute includes a variety of programs and initiatives to promote leadership, identify leadership talent, and develop effective and successful leadership qualities and skills in The University of Olivet students. President Steven M. Corey, Ph.D., along with Trustee David Labrecque; Provost and Dean Maria Davis, Ph.D.; and Today’s Leader Partners Charlie Burnham and Mike Bivens founded the institute.
Students are nominated for selection into a PLI class, which normally meets every other week over two consecutive semesters beginning in the fall. The institute concludes with a graduation ceremony where members are designated as fellows and are invited to remain engaged in the activities of PLI in support of future student leadership development, both while completing their studies at The University of Olivet and as successful alumni engaged in professional and community leadership roles.
“Throughout their college careers, these exceptional students have been an example to their peers of what it means to be a leader on campus,” Corey said. “Fellows of the President’s Leadership Institute demonstrate the skills and character it takes to lead successfully in their professional and personal lives. The founding faculty members of the institute recognize that effective leaders are developed, not born, and are confident that PLI fellows will apply their skills in mentoring future generations of The University of Olivet students, as well as becoming successful leaders in their own communities.”
Chris Watkins ’13 was selected for the first PLI class during his senior year. As an insurance and risk management (IRM) major and student-athlete, Chris had dabbled in leadership roles across campus, including president of the professional IRM fraternity, Gamma Iota Sigma.
“I was extremely shocked when I was selected,” said Chris. “It was an honor that my professors thought that highly of my leadership. I attended every class looking for a new way to better myself, so I could help others be successful as well.”
Since graduating, Chris’ professional life led him to work at Gibson, a risk management and insurance company, in South Bend, Indiana. Recently, Chris had the chance to co-chair the 40 and Under Group at Gibson that resulted in some of the most successful events in the company’s history.
“PLI gave me the opportunity to branch out and learn how others have become successful leaders,” Chris explained. “The class learned the mechanics of becoming a servant leader and a leader that people can get behind. Not only did I learn my own strengths weaknesses, I learned how to figure out others’ strengths and weaknesses as well, and how to use that information to build successful teams.”
Chris explained that he sees the benefits of PLI continuously as he advances in his career. “There is no doubt PLI helped me become a better leader. The class taught me that leaders never stop learning, and in order to become a better leader I needed to continue to learn and over time I will become the leader that people want to follow.”
Chris and his wife, Megan (VanderVlucht) Watkins ’15, recently purchased a home and enjoy working in the South Bend area. As far as the future, Chris is looking forward to a long career at Gibson and the leadership opportunities that will come with experience.
Raquel Mazur ’14 and PLI fellow echoed many of Chris’ feelings about her experience as part of the second PLI class. She was drawn to Olivet in part by the ability to be a student-athlete and because of the many extracurricular activities, especially the student media. Raquel earned a degree in journalism and mass communication with a minor in coaching that she translated to a career as an aquatics program manager at the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the third largest in the nation.
“I was thrilled to learn I was nominated for PLI. I knew you had to be nominated by your professors, and that meant that my hard work in the classroom was being noticed,” said Raquel. “After completing the program, I still utilize things I have learned from PLI and even reference my binder and notes for interviews or general information about management, even three years later. Knowing my leadership style and how I want to be seen as a professional are things I carry over into my everyday life and profession.”
Raquel began developing her leadership abilities during her time on campus. Serving as the editor of the Garfield Lake Review, a literary and art magazine published at Olivet, she knew the importance of leading with confidence and team collaboration. Now, Raquel is responsible for staffing lifeguards, swim instructors, training staff and conducting programs. Most importantly, she focuses on providing a safe environment for all who work at or visit the YMCA.
“I absolutely encourage students to seek leadership development opportunities,” Raquel said. “PLI gave me so much information on not only management and leadership overall, but allowed me to explore how I lead and where I want to get to and grow.”
The University of Olivet has always believed an education should be available to anyone, regardless of race, gender, background or socioeconomic circumstances. As a result of that education, Olivet’s goal is for graduates to become global citizens capable of creating change with the confidence to be more and the conscience to do good. Through internships, academic advising, competing on sports teams, pledging to Greek societies, participating in academic organizations, the ability to form or join new or existing clubs, and leadership development programs such as PLI, students are able to discover themselves and develop the skills to succeed through an endless amount of opportunities.
In addition to PLI, The University of Olivet recently launched the Presidential Women’s Leadership Initiative with an inaugural event, Cultivating Women Leaders: Embracing Our Inner Strength. Through these specific leadership programs, academics and other extracurricular activities, students at Olivet graduate with more than just a degree. They graduate with an unrivaled competitive advantage to succeed.