Two Michigan City residents were among 16 graduates honored Aug. 3 by the Indiana University Northwest Institute for Innovative Leadership. Kila Ward and Kisha Ward, who are twin sisters, completed the Institute’s year-long Leadership Development Program, which is designed to train, motivate and challenge talented and ambitious IU Northwest students to become leaders in their Northwest Indiana communities.
During the graduation ceremony, held at the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza in Merrillville, the Wards thanked their coaches, mentors and fellow students for giving them a unique set of learning experiences and a new vision of what true leadership entails.
“What a confidence-booster this was for me,” Kisha told the crowd of more than 100 friends, family and supporters who turned out to honor the graduates. “It also showed me some areas where I thought I was OK, and showed me that I wasn’t OK. It kind of gave me an upgrade.”
Kila agreed, noting that the leadership program had taxed her talents and abilities in ways she’d not experienced before, and in the process had expanded her leadership abilities beyond her expectations.
“It puts a demand on your skills,” Kila said during her remarks to the audience. “It pushes you to go further than you would ordinarily.”
The Institute’s Leadership Development Program brings together business and community leaders with IU Northwest faculty and staff to create a network of speakers, interviewers and mentors who participate in coaching sessions, small-group discussions, skill-building seminars and special events with the program’s students. Admission to the program is open to IU Northwest students by nomination only, and students are expected to commit between 100 and 125 hours to meeting the program’s goals and expectations.
Both Kila and Kisha Ward are former steelworkers who retired early from Bethlehem Steel and who now work in education. Both graduated with bachelor’s degrees from IU Bloomington, and both have earned graduate certificates from IU Northwest.
Kila works as program coordinator for College Bound, a program at Purdue North Central that works to give disadvantaged students in Michigan City and LaPorte County an opportunity to pursue higher education. She is also a member of the Literacy Council of LaPorte County.
Kisha now works as assistant site coordinator for the Michigan City Area Schools. She also works to support youth basketball and currently coaches a youth team.
Kila said the sisters initially were worried that they might not both finish the program.
“But then we thought, ‘If one of us makes it, we both make it, anyway,’” she said.
Keith Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Institute, praised the Wards and their fellow graduates for exhibiting the courage and determination to examine themselves, identify any perceived limitations, and work through those obstacles to become stronger leaders.
“Indiana University Northwest is very proud of these students who have sought to achieve a higher level of excellence, and who are striving to make our world a better place by assuming the honored responsibility of being a leader,” Kirkpatrick said.
Other members of the Institute’s 14th graduating class included: Christopher Runnion, of Valparaiso; Roxann Brown and William Rieger, both of Portage; Vickie Rainwater, of Cedar Lake; Gary Crum, of Lowell; Pamela Key, of Crown Point; Debra Towasnicki and Nicole Ruiz, both of Highland; Berylene Kozyra, of Hobart; Kristin Roberts, of Merrillville; Michelle Robbins, of Schererville; Jamila Drayton and Danny Gonzalez, both of Hammond; and Cleotis White, of East Chicago.
For more information on the IU Northwest Institute for Innovative Leadership, please contact the Institute offices at (219) 981-5631.