Washburn holds fourth Leadership Challenge


Students participate in a team-building exercise. The goal of these activities is to improve communication.

Washburn led the way once again in the Leadership Institute’s Leadership Challenge Event. ,This was the fourth year that the event has been held on campus. It consisted of one day of convention style lectures and discussions, followed by a real life simulation, which allowed the participants to test their leadership skills.  

Teams that consisted of 135 high school and college students competed in the event this year.  Students came from all over the country, with representatives from Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Florida. The teams learned and competed together, but were judged in separate high school and college divisions.  

Michael Gleason, director of the Washburn Leadership Institute, remarked that the challenge is completely student facilitated.  Volunteers from the Leadership Institute helped with everything from check-in to Friday’s simulation event. The event itself has been in the works for the past year.  

Randy Pembrook, vice president of Academic Affairs, officially started off the Leadership Challenge Event Thursday.  He emphasized the life skills gained from this type of event.  

“I’ve asked employers what they are looking for when it comes to hiring people. It is a two part answer: ‘communication,’ and ‘leadership.’ Both of these are skills students learn at the challenge event.”  said Pembrook. 

Pembrook encouraged the students to use the challenge event to look for their “resonance areas,” or where they worked best as leaders.  After they had pinpointed their specialty, Pembrook asked the students to “help others find their resonance areas, as well.”  

Kristen Onions directed the event for the second successive year.  She is a senior student at Washburn University. Onions spoke to the students Thursday afternoon.  

“We create this event to inspire, to create new visions of exciting change,” said Onions.

She encouraged the participants to ask questions and pay close attention to the topics presented in the breakout sessions Thursday, as the themes would influence the success of the teams in Friday’s simulation.  

Thursday afternoon, students were given the opportunity to learn from academic leaders from the community. Topics discussed involved how to collaborate, communicate and deal with conflict and accountability, and touched on diversity and social responsibility as a leader.   

Tracy Routsong, associate professor of communication at Washburn University, led one of the sessions on Thursday for the students. She spoke to the participants about how to look and act the part of a leader and collaborator. She mentioned that leading is a combination of both listening and speaking.

“We get caught up in our own moment, so take a minute to step back and see what is really going on in a situation,” said Routsong.

Her session included hints on how to properly shake hands, and utilize the principles of proxemics.  

Routsong left the students with a piece of advice. 

“Expose yourself to leadership tools.  Always look for something you don’t know and get out of your comfort zone,” said Routsong. 

The simulation, a very unique way to introduce and practice leadership concepts, was held at Capital Plaza Hotel in Topeka.  Last year’s simulation involved running opposing mayoral election campaigns. Each year, the simulation presents a fictional event in which teams compete to showcase their leadership skills.  

Students can get involved with Washburn University’s Leadership Institute in many ways. Along with the annual Challenge event, students can attend leadership classes to work toward a certificate or minor.  This spring, five Washburn students from the Leadership Institute traveled to New Orleans to learn about different leadership principles in different environments.  

For more information email the institute at [email protected], or call 785-670-2000. For more pictures, tweets and posts about this event, search #LCE2014 on social media.