Published: Oct. 14, 2020 By

Banner image: Chancellor Phil DiStefano, left, and presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, right, during the 2019 Leo Hill Leadership Series lecture. (Photo by Casey Cass/CU Boulder) 

CU Boulder’s newest center, announced today, combines an array of hands-on programming and partnerships to bolster leadership education for students, faculty and staff with research to advance the field of leadership studies.

The innovative Center for Leadership pulls 22 leadership programs together on the CU Boulder campus and adds a new leadership research element run by Stefanie Johnson, associate professor of Organizational Leadership and Information Analytics in the Leeds School of Business.

The CU Boulder Center for Leadership center also places community partnerships, diversity and inclusion, experiential education and mental health and wellness at its core, setting it apart from other leadership initiatives within higher education and giving it even more relevance in today’s world.

Why leadership matters
  • Leadership Studies Minor Students have a 97.6% graduation rate
  • 58% of organizations top priority is closing leadership skill gaps
  • Students report a greater sense of inclusivity in leadership classrooms

Learn more about leadership on campus

“This innovative center, based on proven leadership development model, will help students, faculty, staff and the broader community develop necessary leadership skills to solve the world's most difficult challenges,” said Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano, who has oversight of the center. “Our inventive approach will help our graduates gain the knowledge and experience they need to truly make a positive impact on humanity, whether in business or their community.”

The center is sponsored by the Newton Chair in Leadership, presently held by the chancellor, and includes the high-profile Leo Hill Leadership Speaker Series, which has brought such notables as the first Black woman astronaut Mae Jemison and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates to campus.

The center also houses the newly launched Boulder-CU Leadership Program, a mentorship program that pairs students with community leaders in coordination with the Downtown Boulder Partnership and the Boulder Chamber. 

Programs from across campus such as the Presidents Leadership Class and the Leadership Studies Minor are affiliates of the center, which helps to bolster the mission of a multidisciplinary approach to leadership at CU Boulder. Other initiatives connected to the center include the Student Leaders of the Year program. 

“As a student, I believe that leadership is both learned and practiced, it is also what makes real change in the world,” said Kimberly Fung, a mechanical engineering major who is also part of the Presidents Leadership Class and student liaison to the center. 

“Having a community where students are encouraged and inspired to make a positive difference makes me so excited for what this center will do, bring and achieve. I'm so thrilled to be a part of the team that will bring lasting impacts to the university and learn how I may impact the world." 

From academic courses to experiential learning and co-curricular leader development programming, many of the center’s programs provide a certificate or minor in leadership, said Executive Director Aaron Roof. 

“They span pretty much every college and school, along with the Division of Students Affairs and Athletics,” Roof said. “In Athletics, for instance, we are offering opportunities for students and a professional development program in leadership for assistant coaches."

CU Boulder undergraduate Makayla Sileo participates in the Presidents Leadership Class first-year orientation in August 2019. (Photo by Jessie Kasynski/CU Boulder)

CU Boulder undergraduate Makayla Sileo participates in the Presidents Leadership Class first-year orientation in August 2019. (Photo by Jessie Kasynski/CU Boulder)

Other outreach efforts underway through the center include a new partnership with the Colorado Outward Bound School to provide tailored experiential wilderness leadership education.

New energy around leadership research

The center provides seed grants and other financial assistance to campus leadership programs seeking to sponsor programming integral to the center's mission and values.

Meantime, Johnson is eager to support research projects on leadership and leadership education. First up? A paper by Colorado Law Professor Peter Huang: Put More Women in Charge and Other Leadership Lessons from COVID-19. The center will also support faculty, graduate and undergraduate research opportunities in the leadership discipline.

“CU Boulder is one the world’s top research institutions and that reputation extends to our amazing scholarship around leadership,” said Johnson, who also directs the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative and is author of the recently published Harper Collins book, Inclusify: Harnessing the power of uniqueness and belonging to build innovative teams. “We look forward to pushing this research even further for broader impact in the worlds of business, community, government and beyond.”

The center came to fruition from the programming, research and collaboration made possible by the Newton Chair in Leadership, established by the Newtons, CU Boulder and the Boettcher Foundation, to pay tribute to former Denver Mayor and CU President Quigg Newton's extraordinary leadership throughout the region and specifically at CU.

The Boettcher Foundation Trustees approved a $500,000 grant in August 2001, along with funding from CU, to endow the chair in honor of Quigg and Virginia Newton’s dedication to CU. Since then, the El Pomar Foundation and other individuals have joined in support.

Roof noted that LinkedIn reports 57% of employers report that human skills, such as leadership, collaboration and time management, are more important than ‘hard’ skills. Because these are the skills that are most critical for the success of young leaders as they enter professional life, these are the skills the center is focused on.

“We are so excited to put a strategic focus on supporting a campus-wide culture of leadership education and elevate CU Boulder as a nationally recognized model for leadership development,” Roof said.