A new initiative gives Penn State World Campus students the opportunity to improve their leadership competencies and receive feedback from expert alumni.

The Penn State Online Leadership Development Institute provides full-cycle support to help participants evaluate their leadership competencies, plan for change, and sustain change. Participants engage in a series of interviews, simulations, and exercises designed to predict how well they will perform in a leadership role. It was created by faculty from the School of Labor and Employment Relations and the Department of Psychology in the College of the Liberal Arts.

The institute is based on a program at University Park and was adapted for the virtual setting.

“We wanted Penn State World Campus students to have access to a similar program,” said Brian Redmond, a co-creator of the institute and the director of the online bachelor’s in organizational leadership program. “The initial pilot was launched in 2020 with three students. After some refinement, the second group of 20 students went through the program this fall, and it’s been a huge success.”

The institute will run in the spring 2022 semester for a limited number of students. It will be open first to labor and human resources and/or organizational leadership students, then to any Penn State World Campus students.

Kim Trahan, assistant teaching professor of organizational leadership, and Jason Williams, assistant teaching professor of psychology, are the co-directors of the institute.

Williams said that the program is designed to reflect the daily life of a leader.

“In a typical assessment center, all of this would be done in one day, but that can be hard for our students to commit to because of their many other obligations,” he said. “We break it up to give students and assessors more flexibility.”

The assessments examine leadership using Bartram’s Great Eight Competencies model. This model is rooted in scientific methodology and demonstrates a strong relationship between leadership competencies that can be learned and developed with planning and guidance. Each activity is associated with a particular competency or competencies.

Trahan estimated students need to commit to a total of three to five hours of work. Most of the time, all assessments are completed in four to six weeks.

Alumni act as assessors to judge participants’ performance and provide constructive feedback. Faculty also provide feedback, and there are opportunities for students to participate in career coaching sessions with faculty after completing the program.

Tana McGhee-Wegner, who is majoring in organizational leadership, participated in the institute and said the feedback she received helped her understand her strengths and areas that need improvement. 

“I would do it again in a heartbeat. I wanted to participate because I was looking for detailed feedback on my overall leadership abilities,” said McGhee, who works as the assistant financial officer for the Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing at Penn State. “I have a copy of my feedback report saved on my desktop, and I use it almost every day.”

Williams said faculty train the alumni assessors to give better feedback so they can improve their performance evaluations at work. 

Nathan Gallahan is a 2018 graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership and an alumni assessor. He works as the state public affairs specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Washington state, and he said his 21 years in the military has helped in this role, too.

“For me, it’s important to not only make an assessment but also to provide a solution,” he said. “I spent decades of my life mentoring, and that’s the part of my service I miss most. These assessments help rekindle those feelings of mentorship.”

Learn more about the degrees, such as organizational leadership, that are offered online through Penn State World Campus.