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Homegrown Leaders

High School Leadership Academy formed after community investment

Students at the High School Leadership Academy

From The Ichabod - Winter 2018

Excitement and pride were a common theme last summer when a group of Shawnee County high school students experienced Topeka in a new way as the inaugural class of the Washburn University Leadership Institute’s High School Leadership Academy.

A number of community leaders had been thinking about developing such a program – similar to Leadership Greater Topeka – that would teach high school students leadership curriculum, instill a sense of pride in Topeka and develop homegrown talent who would invest in their community as adults.

“I went through Leadership Topeka and thought it was a great experience,” said Marsha Pope, president, Topeka Community Foundation. “For the Topeka Community Foundation’s youth development initiative, one of our goals is to develop leaders for the next generation. I thought, wouldn’t it be really awesome if we could have a leadership program for high school kids. But we’re not program developers. We’re program funders.”

Meanwhile, Michael Gleason, director, Washburn University Leadership Institute, had a similar idea and was ready to develop such a program. He shared it with several members of the Washburn University Leadership Institute advisory board who realized this could be a great opportunity to partner with the Topeka Community Foundation.

“When you think about their pillar on youth development, the ideal aligns with empowering youth, thinking about how the youth voice can be expressed today,” Gleason said.

Pope liked what she heard, and the Topeka Community Foundation committed to funding the program at $30,000 a year for three years.

“This hit the nail on the head as far as meeting the goals of the initiative,” Pope said. “Putting talent in the pipeline and keeping young people here. We feel like it will do that.”

Students at the High School Leadership Academy

Gleason and the Leadership Institute registered 19 high schoolers who would be going into their junior year. The donation from TCF covered the students' housing in Lincoln Hall, Washburn's newest residential living facility, and provided scholarships for Washburn students serving as peer mentors. The high school students arrived on June 11 and engaged in a week full of activities at places like the North Topeka Arts District, the state capitol, the Jayhawk Theatre and the Topeka Zoo. They participated in a volunteer experience in the Pine Ridge community and toured Stormont Vail Hospital. They met with local leaders like former Mayor Larry Wolgast, Shawnee County Commissioner Shelly Buhler and Topeka Public Schools Superintendent Tiffany Anderson.

“They're feeling empowered because they were treated with such respect by everyone,” Gleason said.

Pope and Kathy Smith, director of community investment, Topeka Community Foundation, observed some of the events, including a wrap-up banquet.

“The kids at the banquet had a lot of pride in Topeka after the week. They’re going to go back and tell their friends how great it was,” Smith said. “They’re going to have a lot more applicants based on that enthusiasm.”

Pope led a session on philanthropy, which allowed each student to use a giving card to go online and donate $25 to non-profits.

“The conversation was very much like we have in our strategic grant making,” Pope said. “Is it better to give five organizations $5 or do you give one organization $25? To have those conversations will perhaps assist them in becoming philanthropists in the future.”

Giving students these types of experiences now is why the Topeka Community Foundation invested in this program.

“They don’t have to wait until after they graduate to be a leader,” Pope said. “They can lead right now in their schools and communities. I’m excited to see what can come of that.”

Gleason is excited about growing the program and envisions students from all over Kansas taking part in the academy. Financial funding will be key to the growth.

“If we had the financial resources, we could make this into a state-wide effort,” he said. “Since we're the capital city, we can get local students excited about their city, and for the others, we could use it as a case study for what a community can do, and they could bring ideas back to their hometowns to make a difference.”

“We love the working relationship we have with Michael and the Leadership Institute,” Pope said. “What excites us most is the thought of involving donors, getting them on campus, getting them around the table with these kids and getting excited about seeing the potential in this. We hope what they would see would be so compelling that they would want to join us and invest in these students and this idea”

The Ichabod magazine spring 2019

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2018-19 spring edition online and look for it in mailboxes in May.

View past editions


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Topeka, KS 66604
Phone: 785.670.4483