Nekpen Osuan never knew exactly what kind of response she would get from the person sitting across from her. After serving a plate of warm potatoes, eggs and pancakes, she would try to make casual conversation with the homeless people who came to First Lutheran Church's kitchen for Mission Waco's Friday morning breakfast. Sometimes her interviewees would appreciate the conversation and open up, and other times, they would just want to be left alone. Yet through those varied responses, Osuan learned that anyone could be homeless.
"They share stories as anyone would, and they describe their life's journey," Osuan says. Some struggle from substance abuse and mental illness, others have lost jobs or lack support from family and friends. There's not just one face of the homeless person," she says.
The Houston junior conducted her interviews as part of a plan she developed through Baylor University's Academy for Leader Development and Civic Engagement. She wanted to work with the City of Waco Homelessness Initiative in its efforts to establish permanent housing for the chronic homeless because she felt called to serve some of society's least fortunate. The Academy is her guide to shaking up the world.
"The Academy wants to help students develop a life of leadership. Not to see leadership as a position or a destination, but as a lifestyle, and to use whatever particular gifts God has given them to the service of others," says Frank Shushok, dean for student learning and engagement.
Students are involved in the program, which launched in 2004, on three levels: leadership development classes, the Academy Fellow Program and the Leadership Living Learning Center. All three areas work toward the goal of producing the servant leader, Shushok says.
Baylor is at the forefront of implementing this concept on the college campus. It attracts students who have had leadership experience in high school and want to continue a lifestyle of service, says Ramona Curtis, the University's director for Leader Development and Civic Engagement.
Curtis attended a conference last year at Arizona State University of the Leadership Educators Institute where 60 colleges were represented. "We're looking at how others do leadership, but we're also finding our own voice," she says. In addition to a focus on Christian principles, Baylor's leadership program is unique in that it has made service to others the foundation of leadership, she says.
"The workforce needs it and the community needs it," Curtis says. "Whether it's with the employees or with the clients, there's a moral and ethical compass provided by a service orientation that keeps people grounded. It's not just about being a doctor, but about having a moral fiber and a purpose to serve the common good." Companies such as AT&T, Southwest Airlines and Starbucks all have made servant leadership part of their business models.
Leadership in the classroom
The most basic level of Academy involvement comes through leadership classes or through groups such as the Freshman Leadership Organization and the Baylor Leadership Council, Shushok says. The most intensive involvement is found in the Fellow Program, in which students complete a 50-hour civic engagement project in addition to classes. "There are lots of levels at which you can be involved with the Academy," Shushok says.
Students learn about their strengths and formulate a mission statement in the first course, Leadership Development. The second course teaches servant leadership by focusing on the writings and philosophy of Robert Greenleaf, an author, lecturer and business consultant who has pioneered the servant leader concept.
Fellow candidates also must take either a Great Text course examining connections between leadership and text selections from the Bible, Pascal, St. Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli and Dickens, or they must take an upper-level management course about organization and leadership in a changing world. A senior-year course for reflection about the Academy Fellow Program concludes the coursework.
Many of the leadership courses are open to all students, although certain sections include only residents of the Leadership Living and Learning Center.
The Academy Fellow Program
Candidates for the Fellow Program also must take eight hours of course work as well as the intense service project, which provides students the opportunity to participate in community programs dealing with a variety of social issues for the good of the community.
For his project, Ben Collins interviewed African-American women over age 70 to find out if they had nutritional or dietary deficiencies. "I'm pre-med, and I want to be in health care some day, so I focused on how I could get involved in that aspect in the community," says Collins, a sophomore from Yukon, Okla. He worked with Dr. Sally Weaver at the Waco Family Health Center, a public clinic for the poor and uninsured. The evidence they compiled showed that the women got insufficient vitamin D.
During his interviews, Collins became aware of the cultural gap between his own eating habits and those of the women he interviewed. "We were going over nutrition history, and a lot of people that I interviewed ate different foods than I did. I had to be conscious about it and ask the right questions and become knowledgeable of food and exercise and nutrition habits that were different from my own."
Collins' ideas about leadership changed as he realized the necessity of understanding his interviewees' perspectives. "You need to be knowledgeable of different cultures and people's viewpoints," he says.
After the research project ended, Weaver took Collins to the 34th North American Primary Care Research Group's Annual Meeting in Tucson, Ariz., to present the findings. Collins was the first nonmedical student to attend the conference.
Osuan also realized a shift in personal perspective since she began her project last summer. Her interviews with the homeless taught her to "walk in with an open heart" and to serve with no desire for gratitude. "The mission to serve them first is something that has been awe-inspiring in my life, and has truly changed my perspective on what leadership is," she says.
The City of Waco began to address chronic homelessness after a January 2001 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development identified homelessness as a significant problem for many cities across the United States, including Waco. According to a 2005 Baylor University study, about 600 people in Waco are homeless, and about 90 of them are chronically homeless.
Working under the healthcare subcommittee of the Waco Homelessness Initiative, Osuan interviewed homeless people, sought advice from communities with permanent housing facilities and called businesses and organizations to find a potential coordinator should Waco establish a homeless shelter.
Although she has completed more than the 50 required hours, Osuan says she wants to continue working with the Homelessness Initiative until the housing project is complete. "I really want to see it all the way through," she says, "The homeless are the forgotten poor. There are those who need toys during Christmas, or just need a can of food for now, but there are those who really don't have anything, and they don't have family to support them. We could be, as a faith-based community, in charge of that."
Osuan's work has been recognized on a national level. She and another Fellow candidate, Austin senior Jenny Parker, were chosen to participate at a summit sponsored by Young People For - a group dedicated to cultivating leaders in social justice.
Osuan, Collins, Parker and seven other candidates are among the first Fellows in the young program, and the Academy uses an advisory board to give those students inspiration and direction. Its members include Calvary Baptist Church pastor Julie Pennington-Russell, U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, and John Hill, BA '04, a Harvard Law School student who was student government external vice president at Baylor.
"We're there as sort of mentors for any students in the Academy, to provide general direction and provide more personal interactions through seminars, small groups," Hill says. Board members gather at Homecoming for a report, and they may meet with students throughout the year, presenting lectures and providing feedback.
and Learning Center
The Leadership Living and Learning Center (LLC) - located on the first floors of the Allen and Dawson residence halls - is similar to Baylor University's other living/learning centers in that it fuses classroom discussion with extracurricular life to inspire dialogue and new ideas, Shushok says.
Curtis hopes that the future Leadership LLC will incorporate all of the Allen and Dawson residence halls as the program expands. "Hopefully one day we'll be an endowed center with the funding to take all three floors of Allen-Dawson and make them the total Leadership Living Learning Center," she says.
Students in the Fellow program are not required to live in the LLC, but residents can become peer mentors who facilitate discussion among groups. These groups plan their own civic engagement projects.
LLC students must attend three leadership lectures each semester, and Fellow candidates must attend four lectures total. "We look at leadership in the church, leadership in social contemporary issues, leadership in private enterprise and leadership in public life," Curtis says. "We bring speakers to expand on what that looks like in their own profession."
Students write a paper reflecting on what they did. Likewise, Fellow candidates must write a paper about their civic engagement project. "We have them reflect upon the impact: 'What are you learning? How is this changing you?'" Curtis says. "That's where the true learning comes, when you start learning what your purpose is and going deeper into it."
Curtis says that the Academy does not focus on any one profession, preferring instead to teach leadership skills suited to all professions. "Because our program is open to all disciplines, we'll see students going into various professions. Whether they're a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher, they'll have a desire to serve as leaders, to be inclusive, to be empowering, to be ethical. We look at the heart of leadership."