NSF funds leadership program for students | Engineering | SIU

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November 03, 2016

NSF funds leadership program for students

Usually, students get scholarships for something they’ve done -- such as earning high marks in high school or college.

A unique scholarship at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, however, rewards students for not only that, but also what they will do: Become leaders in the STEM field of their choice.

The program, known as the Leadership Development Program, has proven itself during its first 10 years, its leaders say. The program, founded with a donation from an engineering alumnus in 2006, recently received nearly $1 million more in continuing funding from the National Science Foundation’s S-STEM program, which funds the Pathway to STEM Leadership Careers program.

Bruce DeRuntz, professor of technology in the College of Engineering, said the LDP is designed to mold students into future executive leaders in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) by providing leadership training, mentoring and community service opportunities. Students in the program -- and more than 50 have gone through it since 2006 -- also get opportunities to complete a summer internship program with corporate sponsors, a major boost to starting their post-graduate career in the working world.

“For us, the scholarship is to enable people with the drive and potential to gain experience with actual hands-on leadership situations, and gain wisdom that their peers will not experience until several years into their careers,” DeRuntz said. “We’ve learned that leadership is 25 percent taught and 75 percent caught.  And we give them the opportunity to catch leadership by example and by experience.”

The LDP began with a donation from Dick Blaudow, an SIU engineering alumnus and founder of Advanced Technology Services in Peoria. Blaudow, along with his wife, Brigitte, established the program as a way to help develop the next generation of America’s technical leaders.

The program, one of only a handful in the country like it, develops students through leadership training, coaching, and by participating in a Registered Student Organization’s leadership.

The program’s students stand out, holding top leadership posts in almost all the College of Engineering’s 14 RSOs, raising more than $44,000 for other RSOs and winning two national robotic championships, among other accomplishments. Three of its students have won the Outstanding Senior Award in the College of Engineering.

The program uses community service projects to teach leadership skills and has led more than 40 such projects during its existence, winning SIU’s Delyte W. Morris Award for Excellence in Community Service in 2016.

While a scholarship is a monetary award, the LDP itself teaches skills that transform careers, companies, communities and countries, DeRuntz said.

“This is far more powerful than the traditional educational leadership models most educational organizations employ today,” he said.

And it means a leg-up for graduates of the program when they begin searching for the all-important first professional position after college. Companies are hungry not only for competent engineers, but those who know how to communicate with, organize and lead their colleagues.

“They have said that it is 10 times easier to find graduates with technical skills than it is to find one with leadership skills,” DeRuntz said. “Every organization is looking for graduates who can quickly move into a role where they will be leading a project team, because it is projects that drive change and improvement in companies, and is what makes a company globally competitive today.”

The LDP maintains a firm handle on what companies are looking for with its corporate sponsors and the men and women who are actually doing the work in today’s engineering field.

“Our LDP graduates know how to lead technical teams on their first day on the job. That is of incredible value to organizations all over the world and can become a critical discriminator for students who are trying to decide on which university to attend,” DeRuntz said. “The LDP allows us the opportunity to demonstrate real practical leadership, and for the participants to practice hands-on leadership in the real world … not just read a text book or attend a lecture.”

After Blaudow’s original $250,000 donation, the LDP applied for and won a nearly $600,000 NSF grant that helped further fund it from 2010 through 2016. The results from the first five cohorts under that grant were promising, with a 95-percent job placement rate and a two-and-one-half year graduation rate of 96 percent (students come into the program as juniors), versus 66 percent for non-LDP students in the peer comparison group, DeRuntz said.

Although the program was specifically aimed at community college transfer students during its early years, the university recently opened it to students in all of SIU’s STEM colleges. The most recent NSF grant will continue in this vein.

For the students who go through the program, a fruitful career awaits.

“We offer something few institutions can, and the quality of our program is second to none,” DeRuntz said. “Our research shows that LDP graduates will receive five to eight additional promotions over the course of their career, as compared to their non-LDP peers. This is the difference between retiring in middle management and retiring in executive leadership.”

The program partners with five corporate sponsors -- ATS, The Boeing Co., Nucor, Nascote Industries and Spartan Light Metal Products -- and they attest to the quality of SIU students graduating from it, DeRuntz said.

“This program changes lives and has proven that it transforms the students of today into the leaders of tomorrow,” DeRuntz said. “It has demonstrated significant success in the marketplace, where it counts, and it is becoming the model for top-notch universities everywhere.”