Chukwukere Ekeh, ’15, paused before coming up with a description for the Chancellor’s Leadership Council Scholarship.
“I compare it to basic training,” he said about the scholarship that drew him from North Little Rock, Arkansas. “Yes, they’ll pay you, but you serve after that and you come out on the other end a better person.”
The Chancellor’s Leadership Council Scholarship, known across campus as CLC, is the most prestigious one offered by the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith. Former Chancellor Joel Stubblefield began the scholarship when UAFS became a bachelor’s granting university to help attract baccalaureate students to the school. It covers tuition and fees for four years and housing and meals for two years, and totals more than $40,000 per student.
It began with faculty members teaching the class, but Chancellor Paul Beran, who taught a similar class at a previous institution, wanted to be more involved.
“I wanted to do it because what the leadership class does more than anything is it infuses leaders into an organization and diffuses them into a variety of areas,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the only good thing I do all week long in which I can say that I’ve impacted somebody’s life. … As a chancellor, I should be engaged in the core mission of what we’re doing.”
And students and alumni say the experience changed them.
“Really the opportunities afforded in CLC were life changing and unforgettable,” said Jourdan Scoggins, ’11, who hailed from Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. “I want to thank Dr. Beran and the scholarship donors for helping a girl from a little bitty small town open up and find herself.”
Beran drives those changes in the students’ first semester at UAFS through a class he teaches on leadership to the scholarship recipients.
“The concept of leadership in our culture has become trivialized,” Beran said. “We see supposed leadership in our government, for example, as little more than people in elected positions who respond to poll numbers rather than making values-based decisions and standing by them.”
The next generation of leaders needs to be sent out ready to participate, Beran said, “so we don’t destroy each other shooting each other or shouting each other down, neither of which extends leadership, in my opinion.”
During the class their freshman year, in addition to working on their projects, they read books and discuss leadership. For 2015-16, they read John Maxwell’s “The Five Levels of Leadership” and Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture.” They must write a paper to defend why they identify with the Republican or Democratic political parties. In doing so, they learn what they value and who they are.
“They learn what they believe as an adult, separate from the perspectives of parents, preachers or teachers,” Beran said.
“It’s challenging you to think in a way you never have before. You keep an open mind and really figure out who you are,” said Francesca Boone, freshman nursing major from Fort Smith.
“It was figuring out who I was as a person,” Scoggins said. “In high school, you’re molded by the people you’re around. I changed that first semester so much.”
While Beran looks for strong academics in the students, it’s not the most important quality on his list. He looks for natural leaders – those who edited a yearbook, worked as a shift leader at McDonald’s or attained the Eagle Scout rank in the Boy Scouts.
“I’m looking for students who perhaps had the same experiences I did in high school.” Beran said. “I was a terrible pupil because I didn’t take instruction well, but I was a good student because I was always in the pursuit of knowledge.”
About 300 students applied for the 2015-16 scholarship. Of those, Beran and a selection committee interviewed about 40 students before offering it to 20. Seventeen students enrolled in the fall as CLC scholars.
Each year before the fall semester starts, the incoming CLC students participate in a three-day boot camp. They have their leadership styles analyzed. They learn study skills. They learn about manners and professional dress.
“When they finish with my class, they are kids who know how to dress, how to talk to adults, how to negotiate, how to find out information in a respectful way,” Beran said.
He also warns them.
“Dr. Beran tells us everything is a test,” said Paige Stewart, senior communication major.
That scared Stewart at first. Then as she became better acquainted with Beran, her perception changed. She couldn’t wait to tell him about her successes.
“It doesn’t become a test anymore,” she said. “You truly grow from it. You become a better person because of it.”
At the boot camp, Beran also separates the students into groups with the “most antagonistic pairings.” Those groups must conceive, develop, organize, implement and report on a project during the fall semester. This fall, students organized It’s a Ruff Life to raise awareness of animal abuse and neglect as well as Glowing Up Healthy, a fitness extravaganza, among others. Ekeh’s group organized a program connecting new foreign students to the campus and community, which is still used. Scoggins’ group worked with the original organizers of Paint the Park Pink, which continues each fall. And as they plan those events, students learn to work with others.
“We are in the process of becoming the future,” said Bailie Coger, freshman math with teacher licensure major from Huntsville, Arkansas.
When they finish the class, they become part of the loosely formed Chancellor’s Leadership Council. They take leadership positions in student government, sororities and fraternities and other organizations across campus. They sponsor the campus Angel Tree each year at Christmas.
Ekeh said his experience with CLC taught him to bring value not only to the people around him, but also to the wider community.
“I can see it being a launching place for who I’m becoming,” he said.