Elliott School creates mandatory first-year course on leadership development

Media Credit: Keegan Mullen | Staff Photographer

Incoming international affairs students will now be required to take a one-credit course on leadership and career skills in their first year at GW.

All incoming international affairs students will be required to take a one-credit course on leadership and career skills in their first year at GW starting this fall.

The weekly course, titled First Year Experience, will cover everything from writing a strong resume to developing analytical skills and understanding ethical leadership principles, faculty involved in the course said. Officials said the course will help first-year students navigate their personalized academic and career interests in the field of international affairs.

Jonathan Walker, the assistant dean of student services in the Elliott School of International Affairs, said the course will allow students to develop personal qualities that they’ll need to take on leadership roles in the field and learn more career-based skills, like cover letter and resume writing.

“We also hope students will gain a greater sense of community through the first-year student retreat and peer mentors.”

The new class is part of Elliott School Dean Reuben Brigety’s drive to increase teaching on ethics and scholarship within the school, Walker said.

“This course will support the dean’s vision while preparing students to become ethical leaders who are prepared to address the world’s most pressing challenges,” he said in an email.

To avoid packing freshman schedules, there will no longer be a weekly discussion section for the mandatory Introduction to International Affairs course, which will drop from four to three credits next academic year.

Walker said the course was one of the recommendations of the Elliott School’s dean’s council, a group comprised of faculty and staff created in 2016 to advise school leadership on their policies and vision.

Robert Sutter, the bachelor’s degree program director in international affairs, and Christopher Kojm, a professor of international affairs, as well as members of the Center for Career Services and the Elliott Academic Advising office jointly created the content for the course.

Walker said that incoming students will be able to better connect with one another and ask questions in 20 to 25-person seminars compared to almost 300-student lectures. There will be 13 sessions of the course available next fall, with at least one on each weekday, according to the schedule of classes.

The topics covered in the course will include career exploration, career readiness and self-learning with the goal of making students more aware of their personal and career strengths, Walker added.

Each section of the new course will have peer mentors selected from Elliott. Mentors, who must have completed at least one year in the school, will attend weekly lectures and assist in programming events, like workshops with Career Services and other development sessions with first-year students.

Walker said mentors will give freshmen access to more experienced students who can give advice and help them navigate specific fields within the Elliott School during weekly office hours.

“We also hope students will gain a greater sense of community through the first-year student retreat and peer mentors,” he said.

Sarah Squire, an Elliott School academic adviser and instructor of the new course, said Walker coordinated the course materials that will be covered in each seminar, including the textbook entitled “The Student Leadership Challenge: Five Practices for Becoming an Exemplary Leader,” which focuses on personal and professional development.

She said that although officials will fully develop the course in the next few months, all instructors teaching the 13 different sections will use the same syllabus and lecture outline.

“I think students will be able to better define their personal, academic and career goals after taking this course,” she said. “They will also have a better understanding of themselves, interests and strengths.”

Giving freshmen a small class during their first year will allow students and professors to develop more personal relationships with each other, Squire added.

“This is kind of a vehicle that gets students early on in the game to help them to navigate.”

“Students having this connection with a faculty or staff member in their first year is important, especially for their academic and social growth,” she said.

The School of Business is the only other school to require a freshman orientation-style class and requires two first-year one-credit courses designed to help students develop career-based knowledge like networking and interviewing skills to prepare for business careers, according to the University bulletin.

Jim Wylde, the director of career and graduate student services and another instructor for the new course, said the class is designed to be “small enough to be interactive.”

“This is kind of a vehicle that gets students early on in the game to help them to navigate,” he said. “It’s designed to assist students in developing their personal, academic and career goals, and empowering them to make the most of their time at GW.”

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