Students Create "Blueprints for Change" in Capstone Leadership Class

June 3, 2014

The chance to leave a legacy. That’s what nearly 70 seniors were allowed to do in their final semester before graduating as they completed AgEd 480: Collaborative Leadership. 

Collaborative Leadership is a senior-level course for Ag Ed students concentrating in Agricultural Leadership Education as well as the capstone course for the campus-wide Minor in Leadership Studies, which currently enrolls 200+ students from dozens of different majors. 

The course requires students to synthesize prior learning in personal leadership, team development, organizational needs assessment to propose their own Blueprint for Change in a community they care about. Students started the semester by making project pitches to classmates. Then students self-selected teams according to which pitch sounded the most compelling to them. 

Student teams were asked to bring three collaborative partners to the table to help address a social or educational change issue. The catch was to communicate an inspiring vision, enough to bring organizations together who hadn’t necessarily collaborated in the past. 

At the end of the 15-week semester, students handed over a Blueprint for Change to community partners – a written report and set of directions for how to execute and evaluate a new community program.  Projects proposed included: 

  • Nutrition Education for Families with Extension, Farmer’s Market, and Food Co-Op
  • Recycling Containers in Individual Dorm Rooms 
  • Recycling Service in Private Certified Housing
  • Elderly Education using TED Talks  and UIUC Student Volunteers
  • Mentoring Program with UIUC Wheelchair Athletics and a Champaign Elementary School
  • Middle School Girls’ Self-Esteem Program at Stephens Family YMCA 
  • Campus Awareness about Animal Adoption and Pet-Friendly Apartment Communities
  • Small Business Development Center collaboration with student business organizations
  • Dental Health collaboration between the Dental Club and the Smile Healthy organization
  • Bike Share program for campus
  • Forming future collaborations for the campus organization iHeal
  • Wellness Resource Binder for Women in Transition Shelter
  • Hockey for Health between the U of I Hockey Team and U of I Extension 4H Youth

Trent Hawker, Ag Leadership Education Senior, lead a team of peers into his collaborative idea for nutrition education. The “Fresh Peas” as they called themselves were comprised of students majoring in Ag Ed, Ag & Consumer Economics, Global Studies, Communications, Spanish, and Industrial-Organizational Psychology. Their team brought together University of Illinois Extension, The Common Ground Food Co-Op, and the City of Urbana to envision and event called “Fresh Fair” at the Urbana Farmer’s Market geared toward children and families. The proposed project includes a one-day event at the market on September 20, 2014 on Buy Fresh, Buy Local day. The student team offered recommendations on how to keep the event sustainable by involving student volunteers in Crop Sciences, Horticulture, Ag Ed. 

“We truly came together from all different backgrounds and walks of life to create something meaningful both to us and to the people of the Champaign-Urbana community,” said Hawker of his collaborative leadership experience. 

Diane Plewa, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension Unit 13, was one of the community partners who helped to shape the Fresh Fair event with the student team. “The students I met through [AgEd 480] impressed me with their intelligence, their drive, and their creativity,” said Plewa. “In today’s rapidly-changing world, the ability to work with others to build meaningful, valuable programs for various audiences is critical, and I think that this class has done a wonderful job in giving the students an important experience. I feel very confident that these students who came from very different academic programs and who will end up in very different jobs, will all use some of the information and skills that they gained in this class as they move forward in their lives.”

The Spring 2014 course was team-taught in two sections by Dr. Kari Keating, Ag Ed Teaching Associate, and Tiffany Macke, Community & Economic Development Educator with University of Illinois Extension Unit 20. Together, Keating and Macke bring more than 30 years of community development career experience to the classroom. They used a learner-centered instructional design wherein students created the experience they wanted and led the way. 

Like many of his classmates, Hawker was initially leery about the open-ended course design. “On the first day of AgEd 480 back in January, I was very nervous about the way the class was going to progress. I definitely like to have an outline to go off of, and it was a little unnerving to not have one,” he said.  “However, I am amazed at how comfortable I was with this process of diving into the unknown. I am incredibly grateful for what I have learned this semester in AgEd 480.”



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