Seventh annual Leadership Challenge Event

Jessica Knieff

Six years ago, 15 teams of students were charged with handling the fallout of a school shooting in a simulation designed to test their leadership abilities. In it’s sixth year, the Leadership Challenge Event (LCE) will again put student leaders to the test.

33 teams from three different states will come to Topeka this March to put their abilities to the assess and build upon their leadership skills in a competitive environment. Eight of these teams are college students and the remaining 25 are high schoolers.

Lauren Edelman, the associate director of the Washburn University Leadership Institute, was at the helm for the first year of the Leadership Challenge Event back in 2011. Edelman said that the idea originally came from former Director of the Leadership Institute, Jeff Mott, who based the event off of a training experience he had working in a corporate world.

“It is really a test of prioritization,” Edelman said. Students in the simulation face real world problems, and real world interruptions and it forces them to address the highest needs.

The Leadership Challenge Event has a changing theme each year, providing new challenges for the students to assess. The simulation however, always takes place in a fictional city called Metropolis in Central Kansas County.

Past themes have included anything from the previously mentioned school shooting, to a mayoral campaign, to embezzlemenet scandals and more.

Sarah Edelman, the current LCE fellow expressed her excitement for this year. This year, the theme remains unnamed until all 33 teams from Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska arrive on Thursday, Mar. 2.

Student teams have five members who take on the role as a specific city official and process ingoing and outgoing information as they handle whatever challenges they are faced with.

According to Sarah Edelman, when students arrive on Thursday, they will listen to multiple speakers covering vital aspects of leadership. These speakers provide an important educational aspect of LCE so that students are armed the next day with new information to apply to their actions.

One of these speakers will be the Director of School Safety, Ron Brown, from the Topeka Police Department. He will give an incident command system workshop and students who complete this training will receive a FEMA certification on this topic.

A banquet and ice cream social allows participants to get acquainted with one another and network with students from other areas of the midwest. The next day contains the all-day simulation during which students’ performances will be evaluated.

“Participants realize something about themselves that they didn’t know before,” Lauren Edelman said.

She described how many of these students are often overlooked for their age, but that the LCE allows their innovative ideas and perspectives to be recognized.

It’s not only student participants who walk away with something, volunteers at the event get just as much out of it. According to Sarah Edelman, this year, LCE has a record number of 180 volunteers to assist in this transformative experience.

“This builds a sense of hope,” Lauren Edelman said.

Volunteers who witness young people constructively creating meaningful solutions to real life problems walk away feeling refreshed and hopeful for the future.

The LCE has opened the door for many other opportunities. According to Sarah Edelman, the fundraising goal has been met and surpassed with over 50 community partners helping to sponsor the event.

Along with new community partners, LCE acts as an important recruitment tool. Prospective students get to see that Washburn University is an environment that will challenge them to grow and learn in unique and exciting ways.

Additionally, a new initiative for the Leadership Institute, is the High School Leadership Academy. Lauren Edelman said, that this summer training for high school students provides them an intensive experience learning about leadership. If it were not for LCE, this new program would not be a reality.