The President’s Leadership Institute Builds a Legacy

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The 2021 PLI class at their graduation ceremony.

The University of Olivet recently celebrated the ninth graduating class of the President’s Leadership Institute (PLI). With these students officially deemed as “fellows,” the program has produced over 170 experienced leaders determined to guide positive change in organizations on campus and beyond.

Launched in 2013, the PLI was established to develop top leadership skills in Olivet’s students, as well as enable them to become principal professional and community leaders of the future. The College collaborated with experienced professionals that specialize in business coaching and professional development to design a program specifically catered for The University of Olivet. Students with exemplary leadership potential are nominated for the program by the Olivet community.

“I believe the PLI Program is a differentiator,” said Mike Bivens, founding PLI faculty member and Today’s Leader partner. “It’s something The University of Olivet is offering that other colleges aren’t or can’t. It’s also a differentiator for the students who participate. PLI students are introduced to key leadership skills, abilities and knowledge much earlier than most students. We believe this provides PLI students with a competitive advantage.”

Ten students earned the prestigious recognition of being selected for the 2020-21 PLI class, representing a wide array of majors, sports teams, club memberships and extracurricular activities. Throughout the program, students focused on personal leadership development as well as group interaction and communication.

“Some of the most beneficial things I learned in the PLI were about myself — my strengths, my weaknesses and what I could do to improve as a leader,” said senior Chelsie Smith, an exercise science major. “I learned that I need to reach out to others and that being a leader involves an entire group, not just an individual. Leading is about getting others on board instead of charging ahead on your own.”

“As someone who is hungry to learn, I thought the PLI was a great opportunity for me to learn more leadership skills outside of the ones I knew previously. I really enjoyed learning about my personal strengths and weaknesses in leadership more in-depth than I ever have,” added junior Takato Timmerman, a business administration major. “Through this, I learned how I can improve my leadership skills to help in my current and future roles.”

A professional behavioral assessment helped students learn about their own traits and leadership styles. With this background knowledge in mind, students also examined the distinction between a leader and a manager.

Jill Edelen, PLI faculty member and Today’s Leader partner, said, “Many people have misconceptions about what being a leader means. Some of these perceptions lead to micromanaging and destroying morale rather than building morale.”

“The most beneficial information I learned was the difference between leadership and management, and how they are both necessary,” said junior Chaz Polash, a criminal justice major. “We all took an assessment to see the type of leader we are, and I found that I am in fact a lead-by-example kind of person, but this is also good and is beneficial for my future career.”

Students worked throughout the program to develop a personal Leadership Development Roadmap, outlining their goals and actions with their new leadership training in mind. In addition, the program culminated with Putting Leadership in Action Team Projects. Students are divided into small groups and they put their knowledge, skills and abilities into practice by creating projects that could improve the The University of Olivet community.

“A highlight for me is listening to the students present their Leadership Development Roadmaps,” Bivens said. “I really enjoy hearing the students talk about the leader they want to be or become as they move forward in their lives and careers. It gives you insight into how passionate these students are about being good leaders and really making a difference. It’s encouraging to know we have over 170 PLI fellows out there leading and making a difference.”

This year, two Putting Leadership in Action Team Projects were shared. One group presented a plan to introduce a greenhouse on campus and the second group advocated for the return of late night dining options on campus. Senior Patrick Gault, a criminal justice major, was part of the late night dining team. He said, “Through this project, I was able to work with a group of strangers who then became friends working toward a unified goal.”

Junior Caleb Graham, a criminal justice and psychology double major, echoed this sentiment. “It felt really good to be able to use what I learned in the PLI and apply that to the group project. It is important for The University of Olivet to provide students with this opportunity because many classes do not offer this type of knowledge or interaction. Also, opportunities like the PLI and our team projects prepare students very well for future careers and future endeavors.”

These successful outcomes reinforce the importance of the PLI in individual student development and the overall The University of Olivet community.

“I think it is important for opportunities like the PLI to be offered to The University of Olivet students because it gives us a head start. Instead of jumping into the workplace or graduate school and learning the tools of successful leadership as we go, we have already been taught valuable lessons and can now apply those lessons going forward,” Chelsie said. “The PLI helped me to grow through self-reflection. I thought I knew how I acted as a leader, but I had much to learn. Knowing my strengths and weaknesses helps me step back, evaluate and then work on making changes. The PLI also helped me to recognize that there is more than one way to be a leader.”

“The little things count when developing as a successful leader,” said junior Kaylee Richardson, an accounting and financial planning double major. “The PLI helped teach us very important lessons that will certainly be useful in the workplace. The PLI helped me grow because it opened my eyes to what I need to do to be a better leader; it helped me develop a roadmap to work specifically on my weaknesses in order to be the most effective leader possible.”

During the PLI graduation ceremony, both faculty and students reflected on the challenges and opportunities of the experience, especially as they were the first class to be conducted virtually.
“2020-21 was our ninth year of the PLI, and we have continuously received positive feedback from the students on the importance and effectiveness of the program,” Bivens said. “We all agreed it was worth trying to deliver a quality product despite having to do it virtually. This year was different, but I believe it was still successful. Students did a great job of adapting to change and embracing change. This is a skill they will need to exercise time and time again as leaders.”

During the ceremony, President Steven M. Corey, Ph.D., shared special remarks directly with the students.

“It’s easy to get into a thought process and conversation about the loss that we’ve experienced during the pandemic period right now, but I want to acknowledge the opposite — the things that we’ve been able to accomplish this year,” President Corey said. “This President’s Leadership Institute class showed tremendous promise, and that’s why you were selected for the program. I want to commend you for saying ‘yes’ to this opportunity when many others may not have. I also know that this is only one of your many commitments and accomplishments that you are achieving throughout your time here, and particularly during this challenging time.
“Continue to identify those successful behaviors and understanding and evaluating your opportunities carefully. I know that you are ready to work with professional teams of others and that you will positively influence your organizations tomorrow and in the many years to come. It’s a special thing that you’ve done — you are special people — and I expect to see big things from every single one of you.”

Ninth President’s Leadership Institute Graduating Class
Student names are listed with their majors and hometowns:

  • Kaylee Clothier, psychology, Battle Creek
  • Chad Enwright, business administration, management and marketing concentrations, Melbourne, Ontario, Canada
  • Patrick Gault, criminal justice, Hamilton
  • Caleb Graham, psychology and criminal justice, Mason
  • Carsten Gregersen, actuarial science and mathematics, Warren
  • Chaz Polash, criminal justice, Ashley
  • Kaylee Richardson, accounting and financial planning, Lansing
  • Mikaela Schmidt, mathematics, Clarkston
  • Chelsie Smith, exercise science, Laingsburg
  • Takato Timmerman, business administration, Poway, California

For more information about the President’s Leadership Institute, contact Barb Spencer, executive assistant to the president, at 269-749-7642 or bspencer@uolivet.edu. Learn more about opportunities for students to develop their leadership skills at The University of Olivet by visiting campus. Connect with the Office of Admission at 269-749-7635 or admissions@uolivet.edu for questions.


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