Visitors to the Leadership Institute webpage are greeted with a banner proclaiming “Leadership is Central.” But what makes the leadership program at Central Michigan University so definitive?
Though there are a handful of leadership majors and minors available at universities across the nation, CMU is the only Michigan university to offer the minor. Eric Buschlen, assistant professor of leadership studies, recently received the Outstanding Contribution to Student Affairs through Teaching Award for the Mid-West by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.
The award recognized him for his work in coordinating and teaching the leadership minor at CMU, as well as contributing to the professional development of his colleagues and students.
Communications Professor and Leadership Council Chair Diane Krider, who teaches one of the required courses for the leadership minor, said she knew Buschlen was destined to be a great leader when she met him in his senior year of college.
“Behind any successful program is at least one champion, and Dr. Buschlen is indeed the leadership minor champion,” she said. “One need not look further than the awards he has won and the growth of the program as evidence of his outstanding work and commitment to the leadership minor.”
Had he not been able to make important connections to campus and student affairs programs when he was a student, Buschlen said, he would have ultimately just become another statistic as a dropout.
“As a first generation student, I felt lost, as many students do,” he said. “But I found Student Affairs, and they took the time and invested in me along with some outstanding faculty. What I do now is give back the attention they gave me as a freshman who needed guidance. That’s what everyone’s job is at the university, to provide support to make sure (students are) not a statistic.”
Buschlen said the leadership minor stands out in student development and research opportunities, and allows for important personal growth to occur as an undergraduate.
“The role of the minor is to prepare students in the program for a life of positive social change,” he said. “For some, leadership is about a position. But in the minor, it’s about a philosophy, about actively giving back to the community in a variety of ways.”
There are approximately 550 active students in the leadership minor this year, compared to just 70 when it began in 2006. The leadership minor is for anyone and everyone, Buschlen said, including students at different points throughout their collegiate careers and in different majors or fields.
It is a common misconception that only freshmen sign the minor, he said. Last semester, there were many seniors who signed, and they only had to add an extra class or two because previously taken courses counted toward the minor.
“The most common question I’m asked is, ‘What is the best major to take with the leadership minor?’ I always answer, ‘What field doesn’t need better leaders,’” Buschlen said. “The interconnectivity between leadership and human communication, and really any field, is vital to the success of those fields and those careers.”
Buschlen said he has a vision for the future, though he said this vision is only in the basic discussion phase so far. He would like to see the development of an entire school of leadership, to include all academic and co-curricular programs under one roof. Programs included would be the minor, Leadership Institute, Leadership Safari, Leadership Camp, LeaderShape and more.
“I think Central Michigan University has some of the most unique leadership programs in the country, curricular and co-curricular,” he said. “I would like to see an alignment of these programs at CMU to better serve our students as future leaders. When people ask us around the country, ‘What does CMU do well?’ I think it would be great to say, ‘We educate leaders, because leadership is Central.’”
Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson, dean of the college of education and human services, said having transferrable leadership skills is essential in an increasingly globalized world. She is pleased to see so many CMU students demonstrating such solid leadership qualities.
“Every time I go on campus, I hear about our students engaging in leadership experiences, and (Buschlen’s) name comes up constantly from students who are engaged with leadership roles. He pushes them to take on leadership challenges,” she said.
Buschlen said he never would be where he is if it had not been for support from EHS, RPL and the Leadership Council. Each have served as developing entities of the leadership minor and have made success of the program a possibility.
“Really, all I’m doing is standing on shoulders of great mentors who were there for me in my past,” he said. “I’m trying to help students navigate college life and become productive citizens. That will help us all in the future.”