Maximizing Leadership Education: Putting the ILEC Priorities into Action​

Maximizing leadership education should be on every student affairs professional’s radar. Even those without “leadership educator” in title or job description are doing some aspect of leadership education in their role. It is critical for all student affairs professionals to reflect on how their work is impacting the leadership education of students. One resource that exists to assist professionals with this is the Inter-Association Leadership Education Consortium’s (ILEC) report Collaborative Priorities and Critical Considerations for Leadership Education. ILEC is comprised of faculty and staff from eight higher education associations, including ACUI. The report, published in 2016, outlines priorities that are vital to the success of students and leadership educators.

Priority: Building Inclusive Leadership Communities

Provocation: Leadership education must create and model conditions for equity, justice, and sustainability across diverse contexts. We must elevate, amplify, and incorporate underrepresented voices that engage transdisciplinary resources, research, and pedagogies, and invite the creation of new and complex approaches and solutions to shared public problems.

Priority: Expanding Evidence-Based Practice through Assessment and Evaluation
Provocation: Leadership educators must engage in, apply, and share theoretical and practice-based research on leadership education efforts. Satisfaction and needs assessment surveys are not enough. To demonstrate the impact of our work and help us better understand the outcome of leadership education over time, data collection, longitudinal studies, and assessment efforts need to focus on learning outcomes.

Priority: Enhancing Our Community of Practice through Professional Development and Resources
Provocation: Provide professional development for those doing leadership education work, regardless of their professional identity, by increasing access to, knowledge of, and critical evaluation of existing resources. Recognize that leadership education occurs in many contexts and support the proliferation of the field. Acknowledge the challenges associated with the work of leadership education and support the self-care of leadership educators so that they can be most prepared to assist in the learning of others. Finally, professional associations must be willing to collaboratively engage in actions that support the professional development of leadership educators in order to maximize resources and promote transdisciplinary collaboration.

At the University of Rochester, the reflection questions provided by ILEC in the report were used to consider how leadership initiatives offered within the Office of the Dean of Students were meeting the priorities outlined in Collaborative Priorities and Critical Considerations for Leadership Education. At the university, the educational foundation is to build lifelong learners. The Office of the Dean of Students is dedicated to accomplishing this through a number of initiatives the office and units within oversee, including the Medallion Program (comprehensive leadership development), student organization leadership trainings, undergraduate employment trainings, and assessment and research studies. The two main frameworks used for these initiatives are the Social Change Model of Leadership Development and the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education statement on the role of leadership programs for students. From these frameworks, educational workshops such as “Conflict Resolution,” “Interfaith Encounters,” and “Understanding Privilege and Taking Action” are offered. While these workshops, as well as other programs, touch on many of the “potential actions” outlined in Collaborative Priorities and Critical Considerations for Leadership Education, some improvements were noted that could enhance undergraduate learning outcomes and advance leadership education at the university. These concepts are outlined in this article, along with additional considerations for how leadership educators can integrate potential actions suggested by the ILEC report.

Priority One: Building Inclusive Leadership Learning Communities

At the University of Rochester, there are more than 280 recognized student organizations with a student involvement rate of almost 90%. Of that, 30% of students hold multiple leadership positions. The provocation statement related to this priority reminds institutions to find ways to encourage student leaders to go beyond themselves; to build students’ interpersonal competencies, which will benefit the campus as well. Dedicated time to focus on cross-cultural leadership can be achieved by strengthening leadership workshops to go beyond the “nuts and bolts.” There is a need to facilitate cross-cultural and global leadership competencies across a multitude of technological and pedagogical platforms, reaching the millennial generations and providing critical learning opportunities. From this priority two suggested potential actions from the ILEC report were identified that could be applied to programs within the Office for the Dean of Students.


The Medallion Program offers two advanced workshops—“Advanced Goal Setting: Keep Calm and Get Stuff Done” and “Advanced Leadership Styles: Applying your Leadership Style Effectively.” Both workshops are practical and help students apply skills to their respective organizations. But ILEC’s report challenges institutions to push further and look for ways to address “equity, justice, and sustainability across diverse contexts.” The development of additional workshops in this area could encourage undergraduate students to explore deeper, complex societal issues such as privilege, international leadership, and partnerships. One consideration is to establish leadership discussion groups. An already existing example at the university, the President’s Roundtable, is always filled to capacity during student organization leadership trainings. In February, 2018, this roundtable was turned into a regular discussion group that allows student leaders to provide constructive criticism and bring these issues to the forefront.


Technology needs to be approached thoughtfully as posting leadership/training videos or presentations on the website removes the potential to immediately assess learning outcomes. One idea to address that issue is to explore institutional resources such as Blackboard, MyPath, Engage/Campus Labs, and other online learning modules. Colleagues from other departments can provide insight on what is used for web-based trainings. Examine and ask critical questions of these platforms, including: Is it accessible? Does it have a protected login? Will it be engaging for your user? Can you assess the learning outcomes?

At the University of Rochester, online learning modules could provide students’ practical competency and organizational knowledge (those “nuts-and-bolts” trainings), allowing for returning leaders to quickly move through “refresher” materials and new leaders to take their time. For student employment programs, such modules could address common on-the-job duties, providing a continual learning and reference tool. Using technology for the “nuts-and-bolts” content provides the opportunity for in-person trainings and workshops to focus on advanced and complex issues.

Priority Two: Expanding Evidence-Based Practice through Assessment and Evaluation

The provocation associated with this priority challenges institutions to move beyond annual satisfaction evaluations to longitudinal reviews and to disseminate that data to student and academic affairs professionals. The University of Rochester uses the Campus Labs Engaged Path platform for tracking the Medallion Program and Qualtrics for student surveys/assessment. While both are helpful tools, figuring out how to manage information and assessment systems that do not integrate with one another adds additional work to the evaluation process. At many institutions, the resources to accomplish a transition to a longitudinal program review are not available. This is why student affairs often relies on anecdotal evidence and survey questions that answer “what” student experiences fostered leadership development. These types of questions help justify maintaining/supporting programs but do not assist in advancing the scholarship regarding leadership education or working with academic affairs professionals. Collaborative Priorities and Critical Considerations for Leadership Education challenges institutions to assess what about these students’ experiences foster growth and development. This would provide richer data that the institution, as well as student affairs professionals, could use.

At the University of Rochester, the Office of the Dean of Students has participated in the Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership (MSL) since 2009; this is one of the largest studies of leadership for college students, using theoretical measures and data collected from more than 350 institutions and more than 610,000 students, according to its website. Data from this study has been imperative to the growth and direction of leadership education for the units in the Office of the Dean of Students. This data has been used to further advance and advocate for the needs of future student leadership development on campus; however, further data exploration and research should be done to better inform decisions. In addition to being more intentional about interpreting such data, there are two potential actions identified to integrate in the Office of the Dean of Students from this second priority.


The University of Rochester surveyed alumni in 2015, and while the Office of Dean of Students was not directly involved in the development of the survey, two themes from the survey supported learning outcomes of the office: the undergraduate experience and preparation/skill attainment and the sense of connection and engagement. Results provided quality data on the leadership impact student activities had for alumni. One striking finding was that 76% of those who graduated between 2010–14 indicated they learned effective leadership techniques from their clubs and activities. Aligning with other departments to conduct surveys can create powerful findings that will strengthen leadership education. Another approach would be to conduct an independent study in alignment with other departments on campus, and then collaborate to present or publish the research to advance the scholarship on leadership education.


Student affairs professionals should open the door for dialogue with academic affairs, which may grow into a collaboration/integration of leadership educational theories and models. Sharing assessment and evaluation data from key courses or academic fields could lead to additional funding, leadership classes, or co-teaching between faculty and student affairs professionals. Students would benefit by developing comprehensively between their co-curricular and curricular involvement.

Additionally, incorporating leadership theory within community engagement opportunities could provide a greater impact for students and the community. One of the units within the Office of the Dean of Students, the Rochester Center for Community Leadership, has made huge strides in community engagement that align university faculty and students with nonprofit organizations in the local area to work societal issues. These partnerships have expanded experiential learning opportunities.

Priority Three: Enhancing our Community of Practice through Professional Development and Resources

Fundamentally, any individual in higher education who facilitates learning opportunities for students to build their human capacity should, in turn, participate in leadership development on a professional level. However, there are real challenges to providing leadership development for professional staff. Depending on the institution, leadership education may not be a funded academic discipline. In fact, a 2006 Journal of Leadership Education article reported slow growth of leadership education as an academic major. As highlighted in Collaborative Priorities and Critical Considerations for Leadership Education, one way to provide such opportunities to staff is through development opportunities with professional associations. Another way is to look internally at opportunities for staff to learn and grow. The Office of the Dean of Students identified two potential actions that would make an impact at the University of Rochester.


Collaborative Priorities and Critical Considerations for Leadership Education acknowledges that leadership educators have vast professional identities and educational backgrounds. At the University of Rochester, those working in student and academic affairs are asked to give presentations, trainings, and workshops that correspond to their identity and professional specialization. For example, the Center for Student Conflict Management presents at student organization leadership trainings on the topic of accountability; the Burgett Intercultural Center presents on topics such as LGBTQ issues, implicit bias, macroaggression, and bystander intervention, and intercultural communication; the Gwen Greene Career Center presents on building career competencies across campus; and the Interfaith Chapel presents on interfaith literacy for the 21st century. Not only are these robust opportunities to educate students, but also professional staff conducting the training develop key skills. It is important to help these professionals view themselves as leadership educators — even if it is not in their title. 


Empowering staff to explore and practice their leadership potential could result in improvements to current and creation of new learning opportunities for students. At the University of Rochester, Fraternity and Sorority Affairs presents leadership workshops, including one on leadership theory, at new member orientation. Highlighting such pre-existing leadership workshops to other colleagues could plant the seed for new connections as a leadership educator and aid in furthering their professional development. Also, consider recognizing staff members who are making positive change in leadership education. Nominate them for institutional awards, association awards, or have the institution’s communications department do a spotlight on their contributions and/or efforts. Further develop these staff members’ capacity to advance leadership within the institution by finding ways for them to present, write, and collaborate outside their department. Actions such as these could result in a cohort of leadership educators that represent various student and academic divisions, who then could propose a list of guidelines and/or priorities for leadership education that has a holistic impact on the institution.


As shared throughout the article, there are a number of actions the University of Rochester can take to improve undergraduate learning outcomes and advance leadership education. Hopefully this self-assessment will encourage other student affairs professionals to consider the priorities outlined in Collaborative Priorities and Critical Considerations for Leadership Education and make similar adjustments to leadership education on their campuses. At the University of Rochester, focusing on these priorities has helped shape the strategic direction for leadership education and initiatives. While there is much work to be done, this review has already had a positive impact on the university community. As more institutions take steps to engage with the ILEC priorities, the impact could revolutionize the field of leadership education.


  • Stacey Fisher

    Stacey Fisher is assistant director and leadership training coordinator for Wilson Commons Student Activities at the University of Rochester. She chairs the fall and mid-year leadership trainings for more than 280 student organizations, as well as coordinates the undergraduate employee training for the student life operations team. She has been an active volunteer for ACUI through her career; she presented and volunteered at regional and international conferences, was Region VII’s conference chair, and was recipient of the Joseph H. Benedict Award. Fisher received her master’s degree from the Warner School of Education at University of Rochester in human development and bachelor’s degree from Ohio University.

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  • Brian Magee

    Brian Magee is an associate director of Wilson Commons Student Activities and adjunct professor in educational leadership at the University of Rochester. He has been in the higher education world for more than nine years. Currently, he serves as ACUI’s Inter-Association Education Leadership Collaborative representative and the Poetry Slam Team leader. He previously served as the educational program coordinator at ACUI for four years, growing the Association’s student leadership efforts through the expansion of student program offerings, including the development and launch of I-LEAD® Connect and ILEC representation. He earned is B.A. in both biology and Spanish and Ed.M. in student affairs administration at the University at Buffalo. He is currently a doctoral candidate at Warner School of Education. His research interests focus on student leadership development through programming, mentorship, and intentional experiential learning experiences.

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