STORY BY JENNY DEVRIES
It all started five years ago, when Drake University students noticed the absence of plastic water bottles on campus. Then, the academic fair was introduced and, to this day, continues to help students make important academic decisions.
More recently, a new student organization, One Voice, was established to take an activist stance on LGBTQ issues on campus.
Now, a student-led conference about how campuses handle sexual assault cases is coming to Drake.
All of these changes to campus were implemented by LEAD 190: Leadership Capstone students, adopted by the university and made into sustainable efforts to better the campus and the community surrounding the school.
These capstone students defy a common misconception that is quickly corrected in the first class of the leadership concentration, Foundations of Leadership: leadership is a quality that people are born with.
Concentration founder Thomas Westbrook best explains what it requires to become a true leader.
“You have to learn the skill sets around assessing need, developing a vision, getting alignment of people and resources around that vision and then executing,” Westbrook said.
Leadership capstone students take ownership of bringing value in some way to Drake and the Des Moines community, and Westbrook argues that they benefit students just as much.
“There’s an incredible amount of learning that comes from capstones,” Westbrook said. “Most of it is around the collaboration and the teamwork that students have to do to create that type of change. We give you the tools, the confidence, the language of leadership to create positive social change.”
At the end of a student’s major, they must use the information, skills and ideas they have learned to complete a senior capstone. What makes the Leadership Capstone unique is that the students are each other’s only resource.
“It’s interesting because you have one semester and no budget to do something wonderful,” Westbrook said.
This year’s capstone initiative is SOS, or Students Organizing Solutions, which planned a conference called Take Back the Campus.
Thought leaders across Iowa college campuses will come together on Drake’s campus for a day to have a conference about how their respective schools handle sexual violence and other “hot button” issues.
The conference will include a keynote speaker with two breakout sessions about mental health, sexual assault, LGBTQ issues or race relations from which people can choose. It will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m Dec. 5 in buildings across campus.
“The point is to bring the Alyssa Mozaks and the Tony Tylers of each school, along with a group of very passionate students to discuss how each of their schools handles these types of things,” said Hope Waggoner, a student in the capstone. “Sometimes I think we all get so caught up in, so focused on how we handle an issue that we forget that there are other ways that might work better.”
Tony Tyler, director of Olmsted Center and student organizations, is not new to this type of activism on campus with leadership capstone students.
“They contacted me last year and they were interested in doing something that would bring issues related to LGBTQ inclusion on campus to the forefront of on-campus dialogues, and to be a sustainable effort,” Tyler said.
What students ended up doing was creating a student organization, One Voice, which turned into a sustainable effort targeting LGBTQ inclusion issues on campus. This year’s class intends to do the something similiar with their initiative. Even though Westbrook points out that this project is an ambitious undertaking, he remains optimistic.
“They’re on target,” Westbrook said. “If they pull it off, and I think they can, it’ll either be a regional or a statewide effort to raise awareness and create action plans around a very sensitive, very important topic.”