The Institute for Innovative Leadership (IIL) at Indiana University Northwest ushered its 17th class of graduates across a bridge to the future on Thursday, Jan. 31, giving the 11 students who had completed the program a hard-earned leadership seal of approval.
The ceremony, which took place in Savannah Center Auditorium, was the culmination of 18 months of challenging leadership training for the following IU Northwest students: Despina Amanatidis, of Highland; Cynthia Brasovan, of Crown Point; Carol Castaneda, of Crown Point; Gina Connolly, of Hammond; Leslie Dallner, of Merrillville; LaToya DuBose, of Merrillville; Mary Gingrich, of Valparaiso; Ephphatha Malden, of Gary; Maryth Samuel, of Gary; Carla Stanley, of LaPorte; and Tomiko White, of Merrillville.
“This program has been beneficial to me in many ways,” said Castaneda, an IU Northwest alumna who is currently pursuing her M.P.A at the university. “The Institute for Innovative Leadership has challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and to take a few necessary risks in order to evolve as a leader. I’ve learned the importance of committing specific goals to paper and how to develop a strategic plan that is timely in order to achieve those goals. I have learned the value of becoming a good public speaker, and I had the opportunity … to get some experience in terms of facilitating and networking with others to effectively achieve my goals.”
The leadership program at IU Northwest is designed to challenge participants to utilize their existing skills and talents in the development of their leadership abilities. IU Northwest alumni and business and community leaders from across Northwest Indiana participate in this process as coaches and mentors, giving the students the benefit of their years of experience and training. Students attend hands-on workshops designed to improve such important skills as public speaking, written communication and motivational tactics, among others.
But the leadership program at IU Northwest does more than just give its students the nuts-and-bolts skills for leadership. It also helps them develop the right mindset for leadership by boosting their confidence and enabling them to develop the attitude needed to lead others.
Amanatidis, who is an M.B.A student at IU Northwest, said that, for her, the learning process began during her interview for the program. The IIL program is very selective, and students must be nominated for inclusion.
“I remember (IIL coach) George Miga asking me a question that I’ll never forget,” Amanatidis said. “George asked me, ‘If you have a choice between helping a homeless lady down the street, helping a friend who has some ethical issues, or helping yourself get a promotion, what would you do?’
“Well, I thought to myself, there has to be more to this question than what it seems to be. My first thought was, if I say myself, they’re going to think I’m selfish. So I started asking some questions to probe at what this question really was about. And the bottom line is, if I do forward myself and get that promotion, then not only am I helping myself, but I am also positioning myself to help the homeless lady and help my friend with the ethical issues. And that showed me strategic planning, right in my interview.”
Charlotte Reed, Ph.D., who took over as interim director of the IIL last summer after the departure of longtime program director Keith Kirkpatrick, said the leadership program seeks to address one of the primary goals of higher education: the development of caring, capable leaders to help address the important issues that face today’s society.
“We at IU Northwest see ourselves every day as building leaders,” Reed said. “But the Institute for Innovative Leadership is an especially important component of what we try to do. We try to train people to become the leaders of Northwest Indiana, and, really, of the country.”
Many of the participants in the IIL leadership-development program occupied leadership positions before beginning their training. Carla Stanley, an IU Northwest M.B.A. student from LaPorte, is a registered nurse and the manager of the cardiovascular and neurological IMCU units at The Methodist Hospitals’ Northlake Campus.
“What you see here are mothers, employees, managers, students,” Stanley said of her fellow graduates. “We all came into this program looking to be better leaders. And I have truly gotten that out of the leadership-development program. I have learned everything from budgeting to finance to improving my public speaking to being calmer in the face of employees.
“No university should be without a leadership program,” Stanley concluded. “I think I have learned as much in this leadership program as I have learned in my coursework for my graduate degree.”