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/news-events/news-archive/2015/

Widener Leadership Working

Justin Jackson (right), a political science major from Philadelphia, presents the bugle to Voices of Leadership honoree H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, Philadelphia Newspapers owner and publisher.

Light streams in through the windows of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, enveloping the room in an ethereal glow, as if Mother Nature herself were granting approval of the gathering of eager faces: more than 130 high school juniors preparing to accept leadership awards.

As recipients of the High School Leadership Awards presented by Widener University and WCAU-TV/NBC10, these sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds have been hand-picked by their schools in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania for making a difference. Among them is a student who traveled to Haiti to help build schools, another who coordinated fundraising for a horse farm to provide programs to adults with developmental disabilities, and a third who founded a group to promote safe teen driving.

When the Oskin Leadership Institute was founded in 2011 with a $5 million gift from the family of David ’64, ’07H, and JoEllen Oskin, the hope was to attract more students like these to Widener, perpetuating the university’s tradition of inspiring students to be strategic leaders and responsible citizens who possess the character, courage, and competencies to affect positive change throughout the world.

The High School Leadership Award recipients are offered a $20,000 scholarship if they attend Widener. In four years the awards program has attracted fifteen students, known as Apogee Scholars. Justin Jackson, a sophomore political science major from Philadelphia who is an Apogee Scholar, said the award has made “a huge impact on my life. If it wasn’t for the Leadership Award, I probably wouldn’t be at Widener.”


The awards and scholarships are only part of a far-reaching slate of leadership development programs offered by the Oskin Leadership Institute. These initiatives were made possible by gifts totaling more than $7 million to Taking the Lead—The Campaign for Widener. In addition to the Oskin gift, trustees Nicholas Trainer ’64; John H. Tilelli Jr. ’63, ’96H; Vito Verni ’61; Paul Beideman ’79, ’14H; and Richard Tan ’09H have all created endowed funds to establish individual leadership programs.

Leadership Certificate Program

Can you pare down your personal leadership philosophy to twenty-eight characters or less? That’s one of the challenges that face students in the Leadership Certificate Program. To earn the certificate, students must complete eighteen workshops on a variety of leadership-related topics including ethical fitness, personal courage, and leadership myths and stereotypes among others. Since the program was launched in fall 2013, more than forty students have received the certificate.

Ryan Raiker’s succinct leadership philosophy says, “I conquer all fear.” A junior informatics major from Philadelphia, he was one of the first students to earn the certificate. He said, “I wanted to earn my leadership certificate to gain knowledge and learn how to be a better leader, to learn how to inspire others, and to lead others in the workforce, in my personal life, and throughout my experience at Widener.”

The reach of the program goes well beyond students seeking the leadership certificate. More than one thousand undergraduate students have participated in at least one of the 307 leadership workshops. “Over half the freshmen class for the last two years knows the Oskin Institute,” said Dr. Arthur J. Schwartz, executive director of the institute. “These workshops have been part of their classes, so it sends a signal that ‘My professor cares about leadership.’ That has been so critical to our success.”

High School Leadership AwardsFaculty Research

Former Widener Board of Trustees Chair Nicholas P. Trainer and his family established the Trainer Endowed Leadership Fund to enable Widener faculty to conduct research on topics related to the mission of the institute.

Dr. James Vike, associate professor of political science, the institute’s inaugural Trainer Faculty Fellow, conducted research on political partisanship and its effect on civic engagement. “Being a Trainer Faculty Fellow was tremendously helpful in furthering my research on civility and political engagement in a deeply polarized era,” said Vike, who also worked with the Oskin Institute to develop a leadership minor and strengthen its connection with academic and co-curricular programs. “The innovative design of the fellowship not only supports faculty research into leadership-affiliated topics, but also provides a mechanism for strengthening connections among individuals with scholarly or applied interest in leadership across a wide range of programs on campus.”

Graduate Student Fellowships

Fellowships available through the Oskin Leadership Institute aren’t just for faculty; graduate students are part of the experience too. Retired four-star general John H. Tilelli Jr., chair of the Board of Trustees, in 2007 established the Tilelli Leadership Fellowship that is awarded annually to select graduate students whose scholarly research contributes to developing strategic leaders and responsible citizens.

Adam Hillner, a 2010 Widener graduate with a doctorate in clinical psychology, was one of the first Tilelli Fellows. He served as an executive coach in Widener’s Organizational Development Services (ODS), a unit of the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology that works collaboratively with leaders to increase organizational effectiveness through leadership training programs, workshops, and other services.

Hillner worked with campus and community leaders on how to optimize their leadership skills. He also conducted training sessions in emotional competence, the ability for people to assess their own emotional reactions to situations to improve their leadership skills. “I can speak from first-hand experience to the value of this fellowship both in terms of my individual development as a psychologist working to affect positive change in the ways that leaders guide their followers, as well as the contribution to the field that recipients of this fellowship can make,” said Hillner, who serves as a consultant with the National Center for Organizational Development.

Experiential Learning

With the opening of the Oskin Leadership Institute, Vito Verni ’61 saw the need to tie leadership development to another of the university’s mission-driven goals—experiential learning. He and his wife, Mary, established a student leadership fund to provide opportunities for Widener students to increase their understanding of leadership through a variety of experiences.

Because of the Verni Student Leadership Fund, Dan Hartney ’14, was able to travel to a hydroponic greenhouse to learn from professionals in the industry and also attended the annual Futures Summit in Rochester, New York, where he was able to network within the hydroponic industry and meet a pioneer in vertical farming research. “This experience catapulted the research I had been doing and inspired new, innovative ideas,” Hartney said. “It is because of these invaluable experiences and the opportunities they create that I truly believe that experiential learning at the Oskin Leadership Institute helped build the foundation of my future.”

Visiting Scholars

Widener Board of Trustees Vice-Chair Paul Beideman and his wife, Caroline, established the Beideman Visiting Scholar program in 2011. Through their gift, distinguished scholars spend time at Widener sharing their leadership expertise with students, faculty, and administrators.

The Beideman Scholars also deliver a lecture that is transcribed and published as part of the Oskin Thought Leader Series. Last fall, the institute welcomed Dr. Sean T. Hannah as the Beideman Visiting Scholar. The Tylee Wilson chair of business ethics and professor of management at Wake Forest University, Hannah directs Wake Forest’s Center for Leadership and Character. Prior to his appointment, he was one of the U.S. Army’s most senior leadership experts.

 “Mr. Beideman’s gift has provided a wonderful opportunity to bring nationally known leaders to Widener to share their experiences and expertise with the university community,” Schwartz said.

Voices of Leadership

A centerpiece in American military history, the bugle called troops to action and kept them informed over vast distances prior to radio technology. That call to action is why a bugle is presented to honored guests at the annual Voices of Leadership dinner.

Beginning in 2011, Widener and the institute have annually recognized the call to leadership of prominent business executives from the region through the event. The evening includes an intimate, on-stage conversation between the honoree and a Widener trustee during which the honoree shares personal anecdotes and life lessons relating to leadership, moral courage, and integrity.

Honorees have included former ARAMARK chairman and CEO Joseph Neubauer; Boeing Defense, Space and Security President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg; DuPont chair and CEO Ellen Kullman; and Philadelphia Newspapers owner and publisher H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest.

Executive Leadership Development

How can we develop more agility in our leadership? That’s the question the Chester Water Authority asked the Oskin Leadership Institute. In response, the institute developed a custom leadership development program for the authority focused on such topics as the characteristics of high-performing teams, courage/risk taking, and creating positive energy.

“The Oskin Leadership Institute provides dynamic programming that supports the authority’s core principles,” said Michael D’Agostino, manager of human resources at the authority. “The workshops were insightful and fun, and as a result we grew as leaders.”

The institute launched its executive leadership development program in 2012, thanks to a $1 million gift from the family of trustee Richard Tan, founder and president of Pacific Millennium Holdings Corporation of Shanghai, China. Since then, Pacific Millennium has sent a dozen managers to Widener twice a year for leadership training.

The institute also has developed customized training programs for Aetna Insurance, TD Bank, UPS, and Qinghai University in China. “What we offer is not one size fits all,” said Jon Peterson, director of the institute’s executive leadership program. “We customize our content to the culture and needs of an organization and use best practices based on current research.”