MTSU class targets emerging leaders across disciplines

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MTSU student Austin Wood, makes a comment during a Wednesday session of the 2014 Institute of Leadership Excellence held inside the Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building. Looking on are students Jimmy Pruitt and Cheyenne Plott. Photo by MTSU News and Media

MTSU’s renewed focus on student success was on perfect display recently as I sat in on the Institute of Leadership Excellence, a week long program of the University Honors College held in the Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building on the MTSU campus.

On this day, the topic was how leaders can motivate others, and after students watched a short clip from the 1991 comedy “Office Space” in a classroom just down the hall, the lively group returned to the amphitheater for an interesting discussion on what motivates employees to perform their best.

Leading the discussion was Dr. Earl Thomas, faculty coordinator for the institute and a professor of management in the Jones College of Business. Thomas served as one of the lecturers throughout the week, and after showing a number of slides highlighting research and theories surrounding employee motivation, he opened the floor.

What followed was a rapid-fire discussion, with some students pointing to money as an important motivator, while others pointed to personal satisfaction and fulfillment and still others to challenging work and/or some combination of these and other factors. The point was to help students tap into their own leadership potential and understand the factors at play when they assume leadership roles.

Dr. David Foote, institute director and associate dean for the Jones College, said the students earn three credit hours for attending the institute, with some colleges allowing the course to substitute for an upper level course within a particular major. Students study leadership theory and practice through a combination of lecture, discussion, activities, speakers and interaction with classmates.

But as much as anything, the program “is about life,” Foote said, noting that students thoroughly enjoy the cross-disciplinary makeup of the class.

Faculty nominate students during the fall semester, with roughly 140 nominees submitted for this year’s class. That number was narrowed to the 33 students who were selected for the latest course — upper level students with majors ranging from biology to psychology and from history to political science to aerospace.

“They always talk about how exciting it is and how interesting it is to be in sitting next to someone from an entirely different college who has a very different view on life … but they’re all talking about leadership,” Foote said. “One of the really cool things is you have a chemistry major sitting next to an art major sitting next to a marketing major, talking about leadership from completely different perspectives.”

The institute also features a diversity of accomplished guest speakers from a variety of professions. Among this year’s speakers were founders of the Rutherford CABLE women’s professional networking group; a former Bridgestone corporate executive; a diversity advocate and entrepreneur; and a music industry attorney.

“We did not want it to be the standard sort of lecture course,” Foote said. “There’s a lot of give and take between the presenters and the students. That’s a big part of it. And because of that, we learn a lot from the students.”
Students who will be the leaders of tomorrow in whatever field they choose.

For more information about the institute, visit
Jimmy Hart is director of News and Media Relations at MTSU. Reach him at

Tagged under  austin wood, class, discipline, jimmy hart, leaders, mtsu

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