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A crowd of students learn what it means to be a Volunteer at Torch Night.

Preparing New Leaders through Rocky Top President’s Institute

Nneka Walson, coordinator for the Center for Student Engagement

Nneka Walson, coordinator for the Center for Student Engagement

by Nneka Walson, coordinator for the Center for Student Engagement

The Center for Student Engagement (CSE) is committed to developing student organization leaders through Rocky Top President’s Institute (RTPI). RTPI is a six-week, cohort-style program designed to cultivate value-based leaders who are committed to growth, innovation, and inclusion within their student organizations. This program is facilitated by the CSE, but each week, campus partners from various departments are invited to lead sessions, present seminars, and share resources that support organizations.

“I learned more about who I am as a leader and have been able to more distinctly identify the strengths and weaknesses of my organization. It has been helpful to talk with the other leaders and see what similarities and differences there are between our organizations.”

—Rocky Top President’s Institute participant

The framework of RTPI is centered on the three pillars of emotionally intelligent leadership. The first two sessions focus on the leader’s Consciousness of Self, challenging them to explore the self as it pertains to leadership. They gain tools that aid in both personal and organizational development, encouraging them to first pursue self-understanding as they navigate leadership.

The next two sessions lean into the leader’s Consciousness of Others. RTPI participants learn about leadership in relation to their members. With the focus shifted to others, leadership is introduced through a multicultural lens, giving them the opportunity to strategize ways to enhance mattering and belonging in their organizations. The final session introduces the leader’s Consciousness of Context, expanding the participant’s perspective outside their bubble. As they draw parallels to their organization and the community, they reflect on the duality of leadership and service.

During the closing ceremony, RTPI participants each present their organization action plan, the capstone project of the institute. Throughout the program, students examine the structure of their organization through an analysis of where the organization has been, where it is now, and where it is going. They use this information alongside all they’ve learned in the program to create an action plan to implement in their organization, which is presented to the cohort and an audience of community members.

18 students participated in RTPI in 2022.

Participants reported:

  • 86% increase in the students’ ability to articulate who they are
  • 58% increase in the students’ ability to describe their leadership style
  • 72% increase in the students’ ability to identify steps to organizational success