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Seattle University


A Moment for Leadership

Written by Mike Thee
November 22, 2011

Dan Peterson speaks enthusiastically about a new course he’s teaching this fall. “This is the course I wish I could’ve taken as an undergraduate,” the Matteo Ricci College instructor says. “Basically, what we do is explore the concept of wise decision-making from a predominantly Ignatian perspective, while considering other diverse and important perspectives along the way. I’m having a blast.”

The course—formally titled Critical Thinking Skills for Leadership: Discernment, Imagination, and Questioning—is part of the new Bachelor of Arts for Humanities in Leadership that Matteo Ricci launched this year. It is the only undergraduate leadership degree on the West Coast, and one of five new academic programs at SU this year.

The leadership degree is an interdisciplinary, humanities-based approach to leadership built on the premise that leadership opportunities are ubiquitous and it serves the student to know how and when to act.

“There’s more to leadership than positional leadership,” explains Jodi Kelly, interim dean of the college.  “You have opportunities to step into leadership every day. Leadership is exercised most commonly in the moments of our lives. For example, it could be at the dinner table when a son or daughter says, ‘Mom and Dad, you have been arguing for years. We need to talk.’ Or when a student observes in class that her peers are side-stepping the deeper discussion and chooses to speak up. That is leadership. But to know your motivations for why you’re stepping in and how you’re stepping it—that is the key. And that is why we start with discernment.”

“You could say the program has three guiding questions,” adds Audrey Hudgins who joined Matteo Ricci in August as coordinator of the leadership program: “’Who am I?’ and then extending that to the question of ‘Whose am I?’—as in who in the world creates interest for us, who drives our passion. And then finally the third question, ‘Who am I called to be?’”

Already, the new degree is resonating with students. Robert Gavino speaks of “waking up excited to attend classes and wanting to do homework for this degree program.”

“This degree is leading me to discover exactly who I am,” said Anna Romanovsky. “This quarter I am taking classes with the goals of finding my own voice, my own discernment process and my own writing style. The knowledge I am gaining everyday is enlightening and empowering. Along with the wonderful classes I know I will be constantly supported by the tight-knit community found in the Matteo Ricci College. As a freshman, entering into such a community is a true blessing.”

True to the college’s experimental nature, the curriculum includes a variety of creative explorations into what it means to be a leader, all with a heavy grounding in the Jesuit tradition. For instance, Carol Kelly, assistant professor in Matteo Ricci College, is teaching a class in which students do dramatic readings in the personas of famous historical and literary figures to get in touch with the difficulties associated with leadership. Dean Kelly says this form of learning is rooted in the Ratio Studiorum, the document upon which Jesuit education was based and which prescribes a component of drama to help unlock the imagination of students.

The degree also involves two internships: a yearlong experience at a local agency as part of sophomore year and placement with an international organization during the first quarter of senior year, which is the program’s capstone experience.

A cohort of 20 students is accepted for each class. There was no trouble filling those slots this year (with a healthy waiting list to boot), and the interim dean believes the program primarily draws students who otherwise would not have applied to Seattle University.

The degree is also changing the complexion of the college. “We wanted to open the humanities and the particular way we teach the humanities to a broader audience,” Kelly says. She reminds us that the college’s first degree program has been exclusively tailored to students at six local Catholic high schools. And while the college’s bachelor’s degree in humanities for teaching was added in 2002 to help meet an important societal need, access to an education in the humanities at Matteo Ricci was still pretty limited until the leadership degree came along.

“This degree is an effort to make a humanities education available to the general population, but with a leadership flavor,” says Kelly. “That’s what the Jesuits have been about since their early beginnings—they’ve always worked with leaders among people. They always sought that influence.”

Stay tuned for stories on the other new programs launched at Seattle University this academic year.