The Collegian
Friday, February 23, 2024

Jepson School of Leadership Studies celebrates 30th anniversary

<p>Bob Jepson speaking at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies 30th Anniversary event outside of Jepson Hall on Sept. 16, 2022.</p>

Bob Jepson speaking at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies 30th Anniversary event outside of Jepson Hall on Sept. 16, 2022.

The Jepson School of Leadership Studies turns 30 this year, marking a milestone in the school's history. 

“Each time that we have come together to have one of these celebrations, there's been new and exciting things that have happened since the last time,” said Associate Dean Kerstin Soderlund. “It's a way to stop and reflect and think about what's come before, but then really think about and so what will be next and what will the future hold?”

The leadership school’s curriculum was created by three professors, and the first Jepson class entered the program in 1992. This academic year, the leadership school has just over 20 faculty members. The leadership school has also developed several different programs such as the Jepson Scholars Program, Jepson Internship program and a strong alumni network. 

The Jepson Scholars program, which is funded by Robert S. Jepson Jr., and now selects up to four leadership school graduates to attend a one-year master's program at the University of Oxford with a scholarship that covers room, board and tuition. Jepson, who is a Robins School of Business alumnus, founded a private investment firm, Jepson Associates, which later provided the funding to start the leadership school as a part of a higher education philanthropy initiative. Jepson was on campus for the program’s anniversary reception on Sept. 17.

Sandra J. Peart, dean of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies and president of the Jepson Scholars Foundation, said she and Jepson hoped to see this program expand to allow more students to receive the scholarship each year, as well as students who are not within the leadership school. 

“The idea he has, and I agree with him, is you take this wonderful University of Richmond education and you then offer a student a fully supported, fully funded master's degree at another wonderful university, the University of Oxford,” Peart said. “That's going to really propel the Jepson School through the future.”

As the country’s first dedicated leadership school, its faculty members pride themselves on forward thinking and creating an interdisciplinary environment that studies leadership.

“We have this group of faculty who come from so many different traditional liberal arts disciplines, different methodologies and approaches, and you're bringing them all to bear on one topic, although a very, very big, complex one, which is leadership,” Soderlund said.  

Thad Williamson, who has been a leadership school professor since 2005, said the school is unique in its interdisciplinary approach to leadership, but also its dedication to community engagement. 

“One way to help students learn about leadership is to actually have experiences and be in organizations, being in communities, being involved in trying to address problems, and having that be a critical part of the Jepson curriculum,” Williamson said. 

Williamson served as the director of the Office of Community Wealth Building during which he focused on initiatives to combat poverty. In 2017, Williamson also worked with Mayor Levar Stoney’s office to develop the Education Compact, aimed at focusing more attention on improving the city’s schools.

Williamson said that much of the work he did in the community came from connections developed through his students in the Justice and Civil Society course, a required community-based-learning course for leadership studies.

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“I was learning about what was going on in Richmond through them, where they were going into public schools, into public housing and communities, into senior centers, after-school programs,” Williamson said. 

The leadership school curriculum also focuses on setting up students for career success by requiring participation in an internship course. 

“They teach you how to network, give you people to network with and they send you out to network,” said Helen Strigel, a senior leadership major and Jepson student government senator. “Then, you come back and they teach you how to accept job offers and how to calculate the cost of living and benefits in your job offer.”

Strigel said Jepson courses, such as Critical Thinking, also prepared her for taking the LSAT law school aptitude test, which required crafting clear arguments, counterarguments and logic maps. 

Peart said Jepson faculty members are working to give students an understanding of how to be effective and ethical leaders.

Students and faculty members have different definitions of leadership, Soderlund said. They instead focus on the process, approach and context of leadership. 

“It's unique that we're examining some of the same topics and issues and challenges in the context of leadership in the process,” Soderlund said. “But you're sort of learning how to come at them and think about them sort of from a philosophical perspective, or an anthropological perspective or a psychological perspective.”

Celebrations for the 30th anniversary took place outside Jepson Hall on Sept.17, where about 160 invited students, leadership school alumni and faculty gathered. The event featured several highlighted speakers including Jepson himself, University of Richmond President Kevin Hallock and professor emerita Gill Robinson Hickman.

Members of the first graduating class of the leadership school were also invited to attend the celebration. 

Previous Jepson school anniversary events, including the 25th and 20th anniversaries, took place at locations in downtown Richmond and were much more formal. This year, the leadership school faculty and staff took a different approach to commemorating the establishment of the school. 

“It's just a really wonderful collection of the future of the school, our students and the past of our school, our benefactor, Mr. Jepson,” Peart said.

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