Leading By Example

New graduate certificate program builds on history of success in leadership development

By Emily Christensen

One of the four pillars of the college’s mission statement, leadership has been the bedrock of the Wartburg experience since the school was founded in 1852. The concept, though always front of mind for Knights, wasn’t formalized until the late ’80s with the formation of the Irving R. Burling Chair in Leadership and the Institute for Leadership Education. That commitment was further solidified in 2001, when the faculty approved the leadership minor. In 2020, Wartburg will embark on the next step in its leadership education journey when a cohort of graduate students begin their trek to earn the college’s new Graduate Leadership Certificate.

The certificate was designed specifically for working professionals and provides a deep foundation of problem-based learning about leadership from different perspectives. Unlike some other leadership programs, Wartburg is offering the certificate entirely online except for two brief on-campus summer residencies at the start and end of the program. The second cohort, and all subsequent ones, also will benefit from an overlap in the program that will allow those finishing the program and those starting the program the opportunity to talk and learn from one another during the summer residency.

“I think this cohort model, with its bookending residencies, will allow participants to develop interpersonal relationships resulting in vulnerability and authenticity among the students. This will better allow participants to reflect on what they are doing in class and how it relates to their work and personal life,” said Dr. Michael Gleason, the Irving R. Burling Distinguished Professor in Leadership.

Each of the courses will be taken one at a time to honor the busy schedules of most adult learners.

Following in the footsteps of Wartburg’s successful leadership minor, which was implemented by Dr. Fred Waldstein ’74, professor of political science and former director of the college’s Institute for Leadership Education, the Graduate Leadership Certificate will require an applied leadership project and portfolio. As Wartburg defines leadership as “taking responsibility for our communities and making them better through public action,” these projects will happen within each participant’s own “community of interest,” like a workplace, church, or other community organization.

“One of the other core elements of the program is utilizing adaptive leadership, which is analyzing problems in different ways to get at the root cause. This allows students to think through how they can effect change on some of our more difficult problems,” Gleason explained. “The program will introduce concepts around innovation and leadership theory that will all be directed toward how they can help influence the way they are engaging with their organization around the change project.”

While some of the concepts might be similar, even students who minored in leadership at Wartburg will be able to benefit from this new certificate, Gleason said.

“This is a very applied program, and the application component will look different than it is at the undergraduate level because of the fact that students are going into workplaces or their other communities of interest and then coming back. As with any graduate setting, there is more onus on the student to get the most out of the experience.”

The depth of the certificate program also positions its graduates to make quick work of a proposed master’s level program that Wartburg is considering. Though Waldstein developed much of the certificate program, Gleason is no stranger to the process. He helped develop a master’s program in communication and leadership at Washburn University, where he served as director of the Leadership Institute from 2013 until coming to Wartburg in 2019.

“The fact that leadership is one of four pillars of the college says so much. As I become more familiar with the history of leadership programs in higher ed, Wartburg has always been on the cutting edge of this, and Fred deserves so much credit for moving us in that direction,” Gleason said. “We have the ability to make leadership development even more pervasive at Wartburg, which makes this a very exciting time.”

Waldstein wraps up 30 years of curricular leadership development at Wartburg

Dr. Fred Waldstein ’74 took a leap of faith when he returned to Wartburg in 1989 to serve as the college’s first Irving R. Burling Chair in Leadership. A gifted political science professor at Bentley College in Massachusetts, Waldstein was intrigued by the concept of leadership as it related to political figures, and the opportunity to return to his alma mater to develop a program that could help shape the next generation of leaders was too exciting to pass up.

“I had a blank canvas to create something that really meshed with the Wartburg mission,” Waldstein said. “I wanted to develop a program that got students engaged and thinking about their responsibility to their community in ways that were intentional and positive.”

The endeavor started with 12 students in one course. That number dropped to six by the time Waldstein returned for the second class. Despite the early adversity, the course eventually became popular enough that a second and third had to be added. In 2001, the leadership minor was created.

“Some people have asked why it never became a major. We were never really interested in that because for us it was more important for students to think about leadership in the context of the major they were in,” Waldstein said.

With the addition of the minor came the addition of faculty — mostly professors already teaching in one area but vested in leadership development — and community partnerships. Waldstein also served as the first director of the Institute of Leadership Education, which currently houses the minor, the Summer Leadership & Service Summit, Community Builders (a collaboration of Wartburg students, area middle school students, and adult volunteers), and the Baldwin Leadership Fellows Program. The new Graduate Leadership Certificate also falls under the ILE umbrella.

Knowing that his retirement was just around the corner, Waldstein, who was instrumental in developing the graduate certificate program, said this was an opportune time for him to step back and let someone else lead the program through this next phase.

“It’s just been such a great ride. If I could draw up my professional career, I can’t imagine it would be much different than the career I have had,” Waldstein said. “Wartburg stresses finding your vocation, and I really believe I’ve had the opportunity to do that here and fulfill my vocation in a satisfying way.

Dr. Michael Gleason, who was charged with taking over the program, called Waldstein a “visionary in the area of leadership.”

“We should be proud of all of the amazing contributions he has made and the mutually beneficial community partnerships that have been cultivated under his direction,” Gleason said.

Fred Waldstein
Fred Waldstein

“Some people have asked why it never became a major. We were never really interested in that because for us it was more important for students to think about leadership in the context of the major they were in.”