January 24, 2017

As he began his college years at Texas A&M University, Kasey Kram ’15 knew he wanted to be a leader. Chon Brooks ’17 just wanted to find new friends. Both found what they wanted in L3C—the Leadership Living Learning Community—an innovative program that students describe as "the greatest opportunity they could have had during their freshman year."

For the past 12 years, the Department of Residence Life in the Division of Student Affairs has partnered with the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications (ALEC) to give Aggie freshmen a unique learning experience with a focus on the Aggie core value of leadership.

A Natural Fit

Freshmen learning communities have a solid track record of helping Texas A&M students start strong, stay the course during their undergraduate years, and achieve personal and professional success after college. By living on campus their first year, developing lasting relationships and creating an identity as a part of a reputable program, L3C students build a deep affinity for Texas A&M.

“It’s easy for freshmen to quickly forge a strong affinity for Texas A&M because of our rich culture and heritage," said Dr. Craig Rotter, one of the L3C founders and the assistant director for Academic Support Initiatives in the Department of Residence Life. "Add to that the fact that leadership is such an integral part of being an Aggie, and you understand why the L3C is such a success story." Rotter also co-teaches the leadership courses for the program with Dr. Lori Moore, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications.

Each year, between 45 and 90 freshmen are accepted to the L3C program. Since it began in 2006, approximately 1,000 Aggie students have completed the program. About 30 percent of the students are African-American and Hispanic with a relatively even split between male and female students. 

“Extroverts, introverts, urban, rural, students who were everything in high school and some who are trying find what they are looking for,” said Rotter. "We accept students of all majors and backgrounds. It’s fascinating to watch these students from all different walks of life become friends and learn together.”

Together, They Build

L3C students participating in their fall retreat. 

L3C students live in the same residence hall, take a one-hour leadership course in the fall and spring, and meet weekly in small groups called “Buddy Huddles” led by sophomore mentors.

“Most students do not come to college understanding leadership theory, concepts, or models,” said Rotter. “We focus on the relational aspect of leadership, and use a textbook and model that align well with the university, Exploring Leadership: For College Students Who Want To Make A Difference.”

The overarching theme: Leaders must understand how to work with and encourage people to accomplish a goal. Forging lasting friendships is another L3C trademark.

“The friendships I gained in L3C are some of the same friendships I have now,” said Brooks, a senior non-certification child professional services major who plans on working with underrepresented youth after graduation.

For Kasey Kram, other memorable L3C activities ranged from camping out together to pull football tickets for others, to walking with L3C friends to the Bonfire Memorial for the remembrance ceremony.

With more than 1,000 student organizations, it’s easy to find a place to get involved, and many in the cohort get involved right away. Kram jumped in early in a wide variety of organizations, including student government, which eventually led to his running for student body president in 2014. He didn’t win, but he continued an active role in the Student Government Association, serving as executive vice-president of administration his senior year.

Network to Safety Net

Within the L3C, freshmen with similar majors are paired into clusters for academic success, and a fall retreat and spring field trip allow students to blow off some steam away from campus while challenging them to view leadership through a broader lens. A recent field trip included a private tour of the Houston Holocaust Museum. Afterward, students discussed the breakdown of global leadership during WWII, asking heavy questions such as:  "How could this happen in our society?" 

L3C program mentors take time to get to know students and monitor their progress. "It's important that they build confidence and feel supported," Rotter said. Brooks agrees. "That special brand of support found within L3C is the reason I'm still at Texas A&M," she said.

“I struggled academically my freshman year, but with the love and the support of L3C I was able to push through, Dr. Rotter pushed me, encouraged me, and most importantly, believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”chon brooks '17

success in diversity

L3C is one of 15 Texas A&M living-learning communities, which include programs in engineering, education, geosciences, and immerse participants in disciplines ranging from entrepreneurship, to wellness, to Spanish language. But one of the things that makes it stand out is that nearly 100 percent of each year's peer mentors, all of whom are sophomores, complete a total of 15 semester credit hours to earn a minor in leadership studies before they graduate. Other L3C highlights include:

► 30 Buck Weirus Spirit Award recipients since 2006

► One Brown-Rudder Award recipient

► Smallest cohort: 45; Largest cohort: 90

► Added a new "Senior Peer Mentor" position in 2014 (a student in his or her junior year)

► 11 countries represented, including China, Egypt, Pakistan and Taiwan

► 14 U.S. states represented

"What these students learn about leadership, about themselves, and the deep friendships and extensive network they gain, as well as tremendous support provided by faculty and staff as these freshmen begin their lives as Texas Aggies creates a lasting personal attitude of seeking out leadership opportunities and extraordinary life experiences," Rotter said. "It lasts far beyond their time in Aggieland. These students are forever grateful for all they have gained by living and actively participating in L3C as freshmen and later as peer mentors.

"It's one of many transformational experiences that sets Texas A&M apart."

For information on how you can support L3C through the Texas A&M Foundation, contact Torii Kapavik '11, director of development for the Division of Student Affairs.