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Northern Michigan University, 2012 Good Practice Recipient

Mission Statement

 Shauna Neshek, Fellow, helped to run a creative writing club at a local middle school

Shauna Neshek, Fellow, helped to run a
creative writing club at a local middle school

The Student Leader Fellowship Program develops NMU students into competent, ethical, and community centered leaders.


  1. Bring together a unique fellowship of Northern Michigan University’s most driven, compassionate, and high achieving students who are interested in self-development and community leadership.
  2. Facilitate relationships and collaboration between our student leaders and local community leaders.
  3. Improve leadership knowledge, skills, and self-perceptions in our student members.
  4. Encourage students to create a positive impact on a variety of local community needs.
  5. Generate a ripple effect on the larger student body by encouraging student leader fellows to provide exemplary, ethical engagement in numerous student organizations, residence life positions, and academic endeavors throughout the campus.
  6. Maintain ongoing support for a network of program alumni to encourage one another’s lifelong commitment to socially responsible community leadership.

Overview of Program

The Student Leader Fellowship Program is a two-year, co-curricular leadership development opportunity that involves 2 fall retreats, a year-long community leadership mentoring experience, academic coursework, an interactive skill-building workshop series, a 100+ hour community service internship, and special occasions for networking with alumni and reflecting on leadership.  The program involves a high level of structure and support from university staff, yet it allows students to design and develop the experience to fit their own leadership development needs and passions for community involvement.

Program Initiatives

SLFP Fall Retreat

SLFP Fall Retreat

Between 50 and 60 students are selected each March to begin the two-year Student Leader Fellowship Program the following fall semester.  Selections are based on leadership potential and a student’s ability to make a considerable commitment in terms of time and effort.  The structure of students’ SLFP experience consists primarily of the following components:

Fall Retrea– Conducted overnight at an off-campus location, the Fall Retreat involves both the first and second-year Student Fellows—100+ in total.  The Fall Retreat introduces Student Fellows to the program, builds commitment, fosters fellowship, and introduces core program values like integrity, service, excellence, commitment, self growth, compassion, and more.  Students experience a Fall Retreat in September both of their two years in the SLFP.

Leadership Theory & Practice Course  During their first semester in the SLFP, Student Fellows take this highly interactive course.  Students gain an overview of various leadership theories, and they have opportunities to explore leadership styles and identify their preferred style.  A considerable amount of class time is dedicated to giving students the chance to understand their selfand to become aware of the values and beliefs of others.  Development of core democratic values permeates lessons throughout the entire course; however, one two-hour class session is devoted entirely to identifying personal core values and exploring how values and ethics are essential for effective leadership.  A number of campus and community guest speakers, and presenters discuss topics such as personal goal setting, ethics, diversity, women and leadership, and leadership as a service.  Each of the two course sections proposes, plans, and implements an academic service learning project then reflects on the project’s impact on both the community and themselves.

Mentors – Right at the start of the program Student Fellows are matched, based upon common interests, with community leadership mentors who act as role models, advisers, and teachers.  An overarching goal of the mentoring component is for Student Fellows to see how adults who are busy with careers and families are still able to find time to act in accordance with their values and positively impact their community.  Activities, which are encouraged to take place approximately every two weeks throughout the entire first year, typically include attending community organization meetings, volunteering together, going to conferences, participating in workshops, or simply conversing over coffee or lunch.  Mentors provide students with feedback on their student organization or leadership class activities and introduce them to becoming a significant part of the local community.  A great side effect is that many Student Fellows maintain a relationship with their mentors long after the one-year commitment.

Skill Builders! Leadership Workshops – Each Student Fellow is required to participate in a minimum of 15 Skill Builders! leadership workshops of their choosing.  Every semester 25-30 of these interactive workshops, which are open to the general public, are offered by staff, faculty, students, and community members.  Topics include public speaking, diversity issues, working with youth, assertiveness, teambuilding, communication, and many more.  Several of our Skill Builders! deal with attitude, motivation, ethics, self respect, and other factors involved in leading a successful values-driven life.

Community Service Internships – During their second year in the SLFP, as a culminating experience, Student Fellows put their leadership skills into action.  The Community Service Internships give students the opportunity to devote 100+ hours of leadership to a socially responsible community improvement project that fits with their personal values and interests.  Students design their own internships, choosing from previous internship sites or an endless variety of new possibilities.  Over the past 20 years, Student Fellows have provided over 85,000 hours of community leadership in Marquette.

Through shared values, interests, passions, and experiences, Student Fellows develop a strong sense of fellowship that results in teamwork and a shared sense of commitment to live a values-based lifestyle.  For many Student Fellows, the friends they make with other SLFP participants become life-long relationships.  When students have successfully completed the SLFP, they write a reflection paper on their experiences and are then recognized at a graduation ceremony.  Communication is maintained with Student Fellows after they graduate from Northern Michigan University through an annual alumni newsletter and reunions.  An overwhelming number of SLFP graduates remain active in their communities through service and leadership.

Ways Program Relates to Character Development of College Students

Hannah Kratz, Fellow, helping with programming in the Marquette Country 4-H program.

Hannah Kratz, Fellow, helping with the Marquette Country 4-H program.

For over 20 years, the Student Leader Fellowship Program (SLFP) has helped students explore their values, develop a sense of purpose based on those values, and develop the leadership skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to initiate socially responsible action at the community level.  The values of social responsibility, servant leadership, citizen engagement, and living ethically in everyday life have become central in the lives of many of the students who have been in the SLFP.  The major pathways of influence include interactive coursework on values and ethics, leadership workshops about living congruent with core values, diversity awareness trainings, one-on-one mentoring by highly respected community leaders, structured practice of acting on social change passions, and being proud to be selected as an exemplary student leader within a campus culture of citizenship involvement.  This supportive and structured package of experiences intensely focused on social responsibility has been quite impactful on student character.


Through formative assessment tools we have learned not to assign the students to pre-fabricated service internships. It is much more effective motivationally to assist students in developing their own internship projects based on personal interests and skill sets.  A challenge in the leadership course has always been to find a textbook that fits the leadership theory aspects of the course, the values and attitude growth objectives, and the interactive workshop style of instruction.  After going through five or six different texts, we have found that a selection of book chapters, journal articles, magazine articles, and web sites specifically assigned to fit the course topics has worked much better.

Regarding mentors, it is always a challenge to find around 60 community leaders who are willing to make a year-long commitment to mentoring our student leaders; however, we have always managed to pull it off.  We have grown a massive mailing list of mentors who have volunteered in the past or who have been recommended by someone else.  We use the local news to get the word out, and we have developed a network of advocates through service clubs, local leadership initiatives, churches, and non-profits.  On the topic of student fellow recruitment and membership, the biggest challenge has been getting males involved.  We have consistently had around 20% male and 80% female student participants while our campus enrollment statistics are closer to 50%-50%.  No solution has surfaced for this challenge yet.  The issue seems to be related to the compassionate side of service to others, which sadly is a more feminine concern than a masculine one in our society.

Gary Stark (Mentor) & Cody Ross (Mentee)

Gary Stark (Mentor) & Cody Ross (Mentee)

Then, of course there is the issue of funding the program. The Student Leader Fellowship Program was first established with a generous W.K. Kellogg grant in 1991.  The grant stipulated that NMU would sustain the program by funding the staff positions and annual program budget.   It was a struggle to get the positions established as general fund positions.   Eventually the two staff positions were built into the university budget, yet, in order to fund the annual operating costs, we spent a great deal of time implementing numerous fundraisers.  After several years, the Northern Michigan University Foundation started contributing $20,000 annually toward the operational funds; however, due to the economic downturn and budget constraints facing all of higher education, the NMU Foundation has been unable to give us the $20,000 since 2009. Though the ultimate goal is to become fully funded through interest off the growing endowment, we manage to stay afloat year after year through fundraisers such as our annual tuition raffle, our finals-week care package sales, and our campus planner sales.

Throughout the past 20 plus years, we have kept the program components fairly consistent.  However, we take student input seriously.  We have heard and witnessed our students being busier than ever before.  Our student population is not a wealthy one, and many students work one, two, or even three jobs.  Because of these additional time demands on students, we have become more flexible whenever possible.  We have incorporated more on-line communication and forms which save students time from having to come to the office or another meeting.  Students are now able to complete their community service internships over the summer as well.  We try to be as flexible and understanding as we can to assist the students in navigating their hectic schedules.

Future Goals for Ongoing Improvement

Three things come to mind regarding the next improvements: we are going to (1) work with the educational technology office on campus to utilize the university’s web-based course software as a means for improving communication, progress reporting, ongoing reflection, record keeping, and information sharing; (2) work with the institutional research office to expand our outcomes assessment to include looking at matched comparison groups, academic performance, matriculation rates, and alumni giving; (3) continue working toward building a program endowment that will secure the program’s future indefinitely.