By Allison Pennington, Communications Intern, Center for Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship
“At Wake Forest, we champion the liberal arts background as the foundation to being a catalyst for change.” –Evelyn Williams, Associate Vice President of Leadership Development
Each year, highly competitive freshmen students are invited to apply to Wake Forest’s Innovation Leadership through Communication or the “Catalyst Scholars” course. The trans-disciplinary course begins with a pre-term design thinking immersion week prior to the beginning of the year, and continues to meet weekly throughout the remainder of the fall semester.
The Catalyst Scholars course, which is taught through both the Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise and Communication departments, focuses on building design thinking, influential communication and leadership skills within the twenty-eight scholars who are chosen each year. Evelyn Williams, the Associate Vice President of Leadership Development at Wake Forest and the lead professor for this course, explains that the Catalyst Scholars course encompasses a holistic way of working with students to help them answer an important question: “What kind of leader do you want to become?”
The Catalyst Scholars course is built on the belief that in order to be a real catalyst for change, students need to understand the richness of a liberal arts background, as well as other teambuilding and communication skills. There are three parts to leadership development, explains Professor Williams: “Know. Do. Be. Students need to have the conceptual knowledge to discover problems, have the skills to grapple productively with problems and the character to push to solve problems that really matter.” Through the CAT immersion course, students become design-thinkers and problem-solvers who are able to develop solutions and motivate others in order to influence outcomes.
This year’s cohort of Catalyst Scholars have worked throughout the fall semester to consider what Wake Forest can do to develop the whole person. As a result, the scholars have offered recommendations to design the college experience in ways to produce engaged leaders for the Wake Forest community.
Gray O’Saile, a current Catalyst Scholar, explains that through the CAT program, and final presentation, he has gained the skills he needs to become a positive change in the world. “Catalyst Scholars gave me the ability to not only analyze and understand problems for individuals in society, but to also act on those observations, develop helpful solutions for these issues, and use the powers of influence and presentation to introduce these solutions into a community or a society to enact change,” O’Saile explained. “It taught me how to turn my broad liberal arts education, and the traits developed within this educational style, into an actual product, something that can be used to positively impact societies.”
The Catalyst Scholar program builds upon foundational entrepreneurial thinking with a focus on innovation, design thinking and impactful storytelling. These creative skills, combined with applying concepts learned from a cadre of faculty from across campus (Provost Rogan Kersh, Dean Michele Gillespie, Sr. Assoc. Dean Christy Buchanan, Vice President Penny Rue, Prof. Bill Conner, Prof. Cindy Gendrich and Prof. Eranda Jayawickreme were among the guest lecturers), helps students apply some of the best thinking from their liberal arts disciplines to solve real world problems. The course encourage scholars to engage and motivate each other and their community by building relationships and fostering change.
Marlee Stark, a 2014-2015 Catalyst Scholar, calls the Catalyst Scholar program “the most impactful experience” that she has had during her time at Wake Forest: “Catalyst Scholars pushed me to interrogate my communication and leadership styles and taught me the value of storytelling. While I think I have always generally taken an interest in how others interact and create together, the Catalyst Scholars program allowed me to engage with this concept in a more formal manner while forging some of my most valuable friendships on campus in the process.”
At a school where building positive change through Pro Humanitate is at the heart of everything that we do, Catalyst Scholars are going a step further by learning how to use their own leadership skills to make Wake Forest, and the world at large, a better place.