CHALLENGING THE PERCEPTION: Alumni Observations of the Value of Student Leadership Initiatives

The relative ubiquity of student leadership development programs in postsecondary education – supported at over 2,000 unique institutions globally – requires efforts to assess their outcomes commensurate with the investment made in them. This research study collected qualitative data from a group of 25 recently graduated undergraduate alumni who had participated in a broad range of formal leadership initiatives at a four-year public university. Our goal was to critically examine the degree to which they felt they developed leadership competencies necessary for their success in their current post-graduate professional roles. A common theme suggested that one of the most significant outcomes of participation was their capacity to develop an identity as a leader of their peers – gained from tearing down their pre-existing perceptions regarding what leadership entails and building a detailed and broader understanding. Several respondents identified the indirect benefit of participating with a diverse group of peers, especially regarding building working relationships across personal difference. Not all respondents, however, possessed positive experiences. Several failed to make connections from the “fun” curriculum to their professional responsibilities. Underrepresented students specifically experienced marginalization and challenges feeling included. We discuss the implications of these findings and suggestions for future improvement.