By Dixie Reid
Five years ago, Melanie Devera was a Sacramento State undergraduate feeling nervous about leading a workshop for 40 fellow students.
Today, she’s a captain in the U.S. Air Force and the maintenance flight commander at Moody AFB, in Georgia, where she supervises 170 men and women.
Her confidence has soared since college, thanks in part to Sac State’s Leadership Initiative, a certificate program that immerses students in campus life and challenges them to become leaders.
Devera, a Communications Studies major, completed the requirements for all four certificate levels by the time she graduated in 2014. The final certificate required her to host an event, so she planned a time-management workshop where she could share the tips that helped her get through school.
“When I was preparing the room, so many students walked in,” Devera recalls. “I initially got nervous. I’d done plenty of public speaking, but hadn’t taught anything with so many people watching. The workshop was a success, and it helped me find the confidence to lead a large group of people.”
She has taken some of the leadership and networking skills learned at Sac State and applied them to her work with the Air Force.
“I encourage my airmen to seek connections, develop personally and professionally, and volunteer to help out the community,” Devera says. “I’ve learned that being involved in the unit and the community can benefit airmen tremendously throughout their career.”
Since its founding 10 years ago, Leadership Initiative participation has grown from an initial group of 60 students to as many as 400 students who attend many of the 800 events held on campus each semester.
The Leadership Initiative, managed by Student Organizations and Leadership (SOAL), was created in 2009 after Sac State students asked for a co-curricular certificate program designed to supplement classroom learning. The program is based on the Social Change Model of Leadership Development, which proposes three sets of values to help students grow as leaders: individual, group, and community.
“Students may not be getting leadership development in their regular curriculum,” says Nicki Croly, SOAL interim director. “The Leadership Initiative helps them get additional skills and resources outside the classroom, regardless of their major.”
Students may earn four certificates in order – Green, Gold, Hornet, and Leadership Initiative – and the leadership-learning aspects shift a bit with each level, says Christina Armstrong-Smith, who manages the program.
Students are encouraged to take their time as they advance through the four levels, earning one certificate per semester.
During the process, they learn how to create and be a part of social change. They build professional skills to take with them after graduation. They meet and network with fellow students and Sacramento State faculty and staff. And they get involved in a vast array campus activities and resources.
“First-year and transfer students will have an immediate connection to campus,” Armstrong-Smith says. “They meet people, get to know about campus resources, and feel more confident. The program gives them the confidence to look into leadership opportunities and see themselves in those roles.”
“Leadership is within everyone, but it’s communicated differently,” Croly adds. “That’s where the confidence comes in. Students may find themselves in roles where they have responsibility, because they’ve been given the confidence to seek them out. Leadership doesn’t always have to come with a title.”