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students teaching

Learning Thru Leadership

Sarah Townsend starts the class by introducing herself and laying the ground rules.  “If no one is participating, I’m just going to call on someone,” Townsend says, her eyes scanning the classroom to make sure her point is clear.

Townsend isn’t a hard-nosed professor trying to intimidate her students. In fact, she is a junior biomedical engineering major at Widener and a self-professed introvert who was previously more comfortable listening than participating in her own classes.

The fact that she is teaching a workshop in the Leadership Certificate Program offered through Widener’s Oskin Leadership Institute is a huge step outside her comfort zone, but she says that is exactly what she needs to grow as a leader. Appropriately, the workshop she is facilitating is titled The Introverted Leader.

Townsend is one of a handful of undergraduate students this semester leading workshops in the certificate program. Others include Joann Klein, a junior communication studies major; Emily Wright, a junior accounting major; and members of Widener’s Presidential Service Corps/Bonner Leader program.

Dr. Arthur Schwartz, executive director of the Oskin Leadership Institute and professor of leadership studies, said he saw the potential of student-led workshops when a student approached him last year with a proposal to teach his peers. Since then, Schwartz has identified students who have earned their leadership certificate to facilitate their own workshops.

“It adds a completely different dynamic and more variety to the workshops that are usually led by my staff or faculty at the university,” Schwartz said.

Senior nursing major Michelle Garro remarked when workshops are facilitated by students “they can relate more on your level.”

“They understand the stress of classes and they understand that if it works for them, it can work for you too,” added Garro, who took Wright’s workshop on peer leadership to help in her role as president of the Widener Student Nurses’ Association.

Klein, who was teaching her Humor in Leadership workshop for the first time, was a little nervous, but she engaged students in small group activities and used plenty of good examples of the use of humor in leadership. At the end of the class, she actively sought feedback, looking to improve for the next time she teaches.

“I really want to make this something I have a strength in,” Klein said. “When I lead others, I want to make people feel comfortable. Hopefully, it makes them feel motivated to do this too.”