Toby Jenkins has spent time during the last five years refining her cultural leadership course, first at Penn State University and now at George Mason University. In the beginning of 2011, her hard work was recognized by the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA).
Jenkins, a professor in both the New Century College and the higher education program at Mason, teaches NCLC 375-005: Cultural Leadership, a hybrid classroom-experiential course that prepares students to learn about how culture itself is a tool of leadership.
After tweaking and adjusting the course through recent years, Jenkins took home a NASPA Bronze Award in the “International, Multi-cultural, Cultural, Gender, LGBTQ, Spirituality, Disability and related” category.
“It has definitely been a lot of hard work,” Jenkins said. “It feels good to put the time and effort into building a significant learning experience and be rewarded for it.”
The course meets on the Fairfax campus, where Jenkins conducts various in-class workshops and crafts the class to be more engaging than a typical series of lectures.
But the class receives its luster from the various out-of-classroom experiences Jenkins has organized throughout the semester. The class in addition to attending various campus-based events, visits Busboys and Poets – a restaurant/bookstore in Washington, D.C., – and will travel to Newark, N.J., for an exchange with an urban leadership class at Rutgers University.
Jenkins says all these facets of the course contribute to her message to students.
“I prepare them to engage leadership from a holistic point of view,” she said. “I want my students to look beyond influencing and managing others. I want them to reflect upon their cultural heritage, purpose and values, and I want them to see how people use culture itself as a tool of leadership.”
In D.C., Busboys and Poets serves as a shining example of a community-based enterprise, Jenkins said. The establishment uses its place in the community to not only revive the area, but also to preserve the cultural history of the U Street neighborhood.
“They are really transforming what a business enterprise can be and what it can mean for a community,” Jenkins said. “They are not compromising. You can be economically successful as a restaurant and still hold socially conscious events for the community.”
To further immerse herself and her students into the course material, Jenkins has planned the weekend of April 8-10 in Newark.
“Students here have a king of shared dialogue about how diverse Mason is, and that’s the story they tell,” she said. “So I think it’s really interesting for them to engage with another university that has the same experience, to recognize that Mason isn’t the only university with an extremely diverse population.”
Newark itself presents a different type of urban experience. The city has a long history, but it is one riddled with racial conflict and tension, Jenkins said. But Newark’s residents are committed to transforming it, Jenkins said, and that serves her course’s purposes well.
“It is a really incredible place to study leadership and culture,” she said.
NASPA recognizes courses that are creative, successful, original, and collaborative, among other qualities. This year, NASPA awarded 30 Gold, Silver and Bronze Awards to instructors from universities across North America.
Image: Student D'Leon Barnett, right, in Newark, N.J.
April 03, 2011