Doubling down on building leaders

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Excellence in Leadership program experiences exponential growth that includes a new dedicated innovation space.

Engineering students work through a classroom assignment at the Engineering Student Success Center.

By Guy Fiorita

By the end of her freshman year, Erin Wells, Eng ’20, decided to apply for the Opus College’s Engineers in the Lead program. Her motivation? “It provides students the opportunity to develop leadership skills that are not traditionally included in undergraduate course work,” she says. The college launched the first iteration of E-Lead, its innovation leadership development program for undergraduate engineering students, in 2014. 

Wells, now a project engineer at Black & Veatch, says that regardless of the industry, professionals need to be able to communicate and work well on diverse team structures. “E-Lead allowed me to develop strong emotional intelligence, interpersonal communication skills and gave me the tools to bridge my technical education with leadership skills,” she says. “That’s incredibly valuable to any company.”

The three-year, 12-credit E-Lead program develops a student’s capacity to lead, with an emphasis on innovation. With original cohorts of 20 engineering students, the program expanded eligibility in 2020 to 40 participants from any discipline. It was rebranded to Excellence in Leadership and has been building momentum ever since.

Kate Trevey, Nana Fotsch Director for the FIELD Center

Now, thanks to a $5 million gift from the Fotsch Family Foundation, it is gaining even more traction. “This gift will allow us to sustain the offering of the E-Lead program to 120 students per year for a very long time,” says Kate Trevey, Bus Ad ’04. It will also create an endowed directorship to be held by Trevey, who was named the first Nana Fotsch Director for the Fotsch Innovation and Engineering Leadership Development (FIELD) Center. Trevey attributes the success of E-Lead to the ongoing need to develop a student’s capacity to lead people and change. “Fundamentally that is what the program is about,” she says. “It’s about leading yourself, leading others and being able to lead innovation. There is a huge need to develop people to lead others through very complex situations. We are constantly hearing from our alumni how valuable what they learned here has been for their careers. This in turn is why there is so much interest from our corporate partners as well.”