With our society’s continued value of leadership as a component of success, the need for an educational program to develop leadership capacity has become more apparent.
According to Tearney Woodruff, a leadership educator in the Department of Student Activities at Texas A&M University, “When you look at the research, what allows somebody to truly develop as a leader is impactful experiences, mentorship and reflection. The Maroon & White Leadership Program supplements the incredible experiences that Texas A&M provides by offering those missing elements for leadership growth: mentorship and reflection.”
Living a Core Value
Woodruff oversees The Maroon & White Leadership Program, a two-fold program that provides student leaders with development opportunities during their time at Texas A&M before inducting them into a lifelong society to continue their progress throughout their careers.
A division-wide task force developed The Maroon & White Leadership Program in response to a campus-wide desire to enhance the core value of leadership. But the task force encountered an early problem: There were diverse definitions of and approaches to leadership embraced by different areas across campus. “Texas A&M puts its identity in leadership,” Woodruff said, “but everyone has a different view of what leadership should look like, what should be taught and what should be included.” The program developed a way to embrace the many facets of leadership found across Texas A&M’s campus to create a meaningful experience.
The task force found common ground in the Leadership Identity Development model, which allows each Fellow in the program to benefit from a personalized approach complete with an intentionally-matched faculty or staff leadership coach. In addition to meeting one-on-one to reflect on their leadership journey, Maroon & White Leadership Fellows are charged with engaging in eight leadership opportunities of their choosing, creating a leadership capstone project, and meeting regularly with other Texas A&M student leaders from diverse academic backgrounds.
Taking on the Challenges
Before her time in The Maroon & White Leadership Program, Carolina Ramirez’s first leadership coaches were her mother and father. “Both of my parents are immigrants,” said Ramirez ’18. “They always pushed me and my two sisters to pursue education. Even when they didn’t have all the solutions, they made sure we were well-equipped to tackle school and any challenges in front of us.”
During her sophomore year at Texas A&M, Ramirez found an early leadership role in the Memorial Student Center Committee for the Awareness of Mexican-American Culture, where she became eager to grow as a leader. Ramirez applied to The Maroon & White Leadership Program at the recommendation of a friend who had enrolled in its first cohort.
Upon entering the program, Ramirez was matched with a coach tasked with challenging and encouraging her to reach her leadership goals. The Maroon & White Leadership Program provides each Fellow this opportunity through their chance to work with a coach. In these relationships, coaches help students find the areas in which they’d like to grow, support that growth and push the student to commit to lifelong reflection on their experiences. Woodruff emphasizes that meetings between fellows and leadership coaches are powerful vehicles for transformational and holistic learning and growth.
Ramirez’s coach, Dr. Michael E. Shehane ’02, reflected upon the experience with pride. “I feel that Carolina and I were matched perfectly,” Shehane said. “Our relationship grew beyond the job titles, including opportunities to discuss her overall college experience, personal and professional goals and future aspirations, in addition to her completion of leadership reflections.”
“Being able to talk one-on-one with someone interested in my development taught me a lot about myself,” Ramirez said. “I had to face these big questions about where I was going, and sometimes I’d get frustrated with not having the answers right away. But those questions were important to keep me from merely going through the motions.”
Investing in Intentionality
If the Maroon & White Leadership Program has a defining word, it is intentionality. Students are discouraged from riding on intuition alone lest they forget why and how their daily decisions matter. The intentionality of the program is seen through the unique paths each Fellow pursues and the specialized support they receive from their coach, promoting strong relationships that branch across the Texas A&M campus. This belief extends to the program’s desire to provide opportunities to all Aggies, regardless of background, current involvement, future career or any other defining identities.
As of now, the program accepts approximately 50 students per year. Woodruff wants to expand capacity, but she knows the program will need more outside support first. She considers The Maroon & White Leadership Program to be a unique endowment and naming opportunity.
“There is often a cost barrier to developing as a leader,” she said. “Many of the transformative experiences on campus are cost-prohibitive. We don’t charge an application or membership fee because we want to reach students who can’t usually afford similar opportunities.”
A $500,000 endowment would allow an entire cohort of students to experience the program from start to finish, providing access to leadership education opportunities such as trainings, workshops, development and more. “We would love for the program to be fully funded,” Woodruff said, “because we’re seeing the potential for Aggies from all colleges to benefit.”
Having met program requirements, Ramirez was inducted into The Maroon & White Leadership Society upon graduation. The society side of the program is young, but as more graduates are inducted, the network of intentional leaders who have all gone through the fellowship program only grows.
One of Ramirez’s takeaways from her time in the program was that leadership means valuing other people. She plans to embrace this more as she sets off toward graduate studies at Iowa State University to further her own career in student affairs by helping other first-generation students excel in college. “I know it can be hard to come in as a freshman not knowing which way is up,” Ramirez said. “I think meeting people who invested in me made me want to invest in others.”