Windows of Memorial Union


Linking Leaders

Merging two popular programs ignites new era of leadership, community engagement

Lauren Edelman teaches a class as students present

Lauren Edelman, ba ’11 (left), listens to a student presentation during the Leadership Skills Development class she teaches.

From The Ichabod - Winter 2024
Story by Annie Flachsbarth | Photos by Jeremy Wangler

From the start of his college career, Washburn junior George Burdick knew he wanted to embrace leadership head-on. So, in his first year on campus, he did what any emerging leader would do: He jumped right in and got involved with two of the most leadership-oriented groups on campus – the Leadership Institute and Learning in the Community.

Thanks to a planned merger of those two organizaions, students like Burdick will have increased access to their resources.

Kris Hart and LinC students meeting

(Kristine Hart, mcj ’03 [right], leads a meeting of Bonner Scholars.)

As a student double-majoring in political science and philosophy and double-minoring in leadership studies and economics with plans to attend law school, Burdick said the experience with these groups has been incredibly valuable.

"They've helped me better understand the issues facing the state, the community and the country," Burdick said. "It's opened my eyes to everything I can do with my education."

While the Leadership Institute focuses on training the leaders of tomorrow through certificates, bachelor's and master's degrees, LinC focuses on the community side of leadership by engaging students in experiences that enhance academic learning and improve the community. In August, the organizations announced a merger into the Aleshire Center for Leadership and Community Engagement – all thanks to a $2 million gift from Joe and Janet Aleshire.

Making Moves

Kristine Hart, mcj ’03, director, LinC, is excited about the impact the Aleshire Center will have on both the students and the community.

"Our combined programs will work to bring in community leaders as partners, creating opportunities for student engagement and meaningful community work," Hart said. “We're going to have more resources, more collaboration and, ultimately, more impact. It's a win-win situation for everyone involved."

As someone who's seen the impact both organizations can have firsthand, Burdick is ecstatic.

"This merger means we'll be able to do even more for our community," he said. "It's combining the best of both worlds."

With the merger set to be complete by fall 2024, the two organizations are working closely to determine the best way to integrate – including faculty needs, new programming and moving together into a space in the former home of the School of Law.  

Lauren Edelman, ba ’11, director, Leadership Institute, believes the merger will amplify their efforts and provide even more opportunities for students like Burdick.

"We will still do a lot of our traditional programming, but we will bolster those leadership experience opportunities with community engagement," Edelman said. "Ultimately, we'll work to make leadership development as robust of a learning experience as possible with a foundation of in-classroom learning and lots of opportunity for real-world practice."

Alumni from these groups have gone into helping professions like health care, social work and criminal justice. The conversation is diverse, depending on whatever lens they're coming from academically.

"Regardless of their path, students benefit greatly from working closely with the community," Hart said. "If you don't understand your community or the issues your community faces, it's hard to do your job as a leader."

One area the Aleshire Center will aim to invest more into is the LinC Bonner Scholars Program. College students in the program commit to serving 1,000 hours in the community during their four years at Washburn.

"Although these students are getting hands-on training and leadership development, very few receive a scholarship," Edelman said. "We'd love to see more scholarship support and investing in students who give back to their community."

The Aleshire Legacy

Janet and Joe Aleshire sit in on a class at Washburn

(Janet [back row, center] and Joe [back row, right] Aleshire talk with students after hearing presentations during the Leadership Skills Development class this fall)

Although the Aleshires didn't graduate from Washburn, they aren't strangers to the campus. They've been connected to the Leadership Institute since Joe's days working at Capitol Federal in Topeka, and they often drop by to share leadership lessons with students and support various educational initiatives.

"In addition to helping develop others to become leaders, the Aleshires don't believe you can be a leader if you're not also working to make the world and community a better place," Hart said.

"We're extremely grateful to the Aleshires for their continued support," said Edelman. "Their gift and this merger brought new energy to both of our programs.”

The Aleshire Center isn't just a merger of two organizations on campus – it's students and community members coming together to make a difference.

Or, as Burdick put it, "This is just the beginning."

Winter 2024 The Ichabod magazine cover with picture of the bell tower and snow fallen on campus

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. View the current and past editions


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