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Aerial view of Wichita State University during summer break.

Student leaders at Wichita State can earn a minor credentialing their governance experiences.

Jacob Boomsma/iStock/Getty Images Plus 

Student groups and organizations provide a significant number of learners with important leadership experience. A fall 2023 Student Voice survey from Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse of 3,000 students found 34 percent of students have held a leadership position on campus and 9 percent plan to.

To better prepare students to hold leadership roles and provide an academic context for their campus work, faculty and staff at Wichita State University created a minor in organizational leadership.

The student organization leadership minor is housed in the College of Applied Studies and open to anyone who participates in student organizations or groups, student government, Greek life, and residence life. The program provides foundational knowledge, best practices and leadership development for budding student affairs professionals that can benefit them later in their college careers and beyond.

What’s the need: Often, students participating in extracurricular activities are unaware of how their experiences provide professional development or connect to their future career aspirations. At Wichita, advisers focus on the National Association for Campus Activities competencies, but ensuring all student leaders across 200 organizations understood their learning outcomes was difficult, explains Gabriel Fonseca, interim executive director of student engagement and adviser to the student government association.

The minor provides verified credentialing to the lived experiences and outcomes of student leaders, adding value to their degree and college involvement years down the line.

“This is sort of the ultimate opportunity for us to really help these students capture, quantify and then credential the professional development that they’re earning with the activities,” says Mark Vermillion, interim associate dean of the College of Applied Studies and chair and professor of sports management.

Fonseca provides an example of a student’s résumé. As recent grads, campus leaders can highlight their experiences in government or clubs, but after several years, that’s not as relevant to their work experiences, but it also can’t be demonstrated elsewhere as critical experiential learning.

“We were already teaching them. How do we continue to do that, just in a space and environment where learning [is] a little bit more active and … with the end result of saying, ‘Here are all the things you’re already doing, how do we put it all together and develop something that can continue to be there on your résumé, on your transcript and beyond?’” Fonseca says.

Working with staff in the Office of Student Engagement, Advocacy and Leadership (SEAL), Fonseca, Vermillion and Chelsea Redger-Marquardt, assistant professor in the College of Applied Studies and assistant dean in the honors college, created the minor.

Why a minor: Many institutions offer additional methods of credentialing students. Wichita State has a system for awarding badges as well, but it’s separate from the academic transcript. The minor’s 12-credit hours fulfill the 120-credit requirement for undergraduate students.

“Higher education is expensive, and so if students want to be involved in extracurriculars or co-curriculars and if we can streamline that process where they can still be involved and it still counts towards their academic trajectory, then that feels like a win-win,” Vermillion says.

The minor also allows students to select which courses are most relevant to them and their field, whether that’s Greek life, working as a resident assistant or serving as a student senator. EDUC 399, for example, has five variations for different types of student leaders.

Students who participate in co-curriculars are not required to complete the minor, so it’s not a gatekeeper to access, but a value-added piece that can be incorporated at any time in their academic career, Redger-Marquardt says.

“We wanted it to be extra,” Vermillion says. “Instead of the cake, this is much more of the frosting.”

The impact: The first course, Leadership in Governance, ran this summer for student government leaders, taught by Fonseca.

SGA members often complete summer training, but the three-credit course created regular face-to-face connections across the association, helped in goal-planning work and broke down silos between committees and groups, Fonseca says.

As the adviser, Fonseca sees this group of students as more prepared, more confident and ready to hit the ground running at the start of the fall term. Redger-Marquardt also sees that students have started to articulate learned skills through self-reflection work. The university is tracking ROI metrics to ensure the program is financially sustainable, Vermillion says.

The biggest challenge so far was creating the minor itself, navigating bureaucracy within the institution, outlining curriculum and recruiting students to enroll.

Partnership was essential to getting the minor off the ground, Fonseca, Redger-Marquardt and Vermillion say. “I don’t know much about student affairs—basically whatever Gabe and Chelsea and a couple of folks told me,” Vermillion admits, but having expertise from both areas made the launch a success.

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