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NMU’s Student Leader Fellowship Program builds leaders through community experiences

February 15, 2012
By JACKIE STARK - Journal Staff Writer , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University's Student Leader Fellowship Program continues to gain recognition at all levels, most recently on a national stage by winning the 2012 John C. Dalton Institute for College Values, Best Practices Award.

The annual award is presented to an organization that shows an outstanding practice relevant to the field of college student character and values development.

"That was really exciting, to apply and be recognized for our amazing leadership program," said Rachel Harris, associate director of student enrichment.

Article Photos

From the top, Northern Michigan University Student Leader Fellowship Program students Hailey Schroeder, Sarah Muellerleile and Geneva Martin pose with students from Sandy Knoll Elementary School in Marquette. The NMU students are doing their community service internship at the school and work on their Start Fit, Stay Fit project which promotes healthy living. (Photo courtesy of the Student Leader Fellowship Program)

The SLFP was also a finalist for the 2012 Michigan Campus Compact Campus-Community Partnership Award.

Harris has been involved with the SLFP for 16 years. She said what helps make the program stand out is the community it's based in.

"People are so amazed and so impressed by what we're able to do here. I think a lot of it has to do with, a lot of things all align. We have amazing students who are taking advantage of the opportunity they have and an amazing community that allows us to have this program, because without our community members who are willing to serve as mentors, we wouldn't have this," Harris said. "I tell people that I recruit 50, 55 mentors every year for students, and they're like 'How do you do that? That's impossible.' But we do it. It's never been a problem. We have these great people who are willing to give their time."

The SLFP is a two-year program that begins with a two-credit course called UN 250: Leadership Theory and Practice. There, students learn how to organize events, gather volunteers and to lead a group of people.

The first year, students are paired with mentors from the community who can help expose them to leadership opportunities. During their second year, students apply those leadership skills by planning, organizing and implementing their own community service internship.

Throughout both years, students must also complete at least 15 Skill Builders! workshops.

Since the program's inception in 1991, students have conducted hundreds of community service internships. This semester, students are involved with a wide variety of local organizations, including the Marquette Senior Center, Room at the Inn, Marquette General Hospital, the Marquette Regional History Center, Child and Family Services of the Upper Peninsula, MooseWood Nature Center and several local schools, just to name a few.

"Every year, there's so many good internships that take place and so many are continued, but there's always another half a dozen new ones that have never happened before, where the students are like, 'Those are great ideas, but I have another idea,'" Harris said.

Students are required to complete at least 100 hours on their CSI, and are matched up with a mentor through a profile both the students and the mentors are asked to fill out. People with similar interests are matched together as often as possible.

"We want them (the mentors) to introduce them (the students) to the different community things they're involved in and basically have fun and be a role model, a friend, a guide, a support, an encourager, and just be able to talk about leadership situations and their experiences," Harris said. "Hopefully that student will take advantage of that and learn through their life experiences because they've probably gone through a lot of the same things the students are encountering."

Upper Peninsula Children's Museum Director Nheena Weyer Ittner said she has served as a mentor for the program almost since its beginnings 21 years ago. What keeps her coming back is a continued positive experience helping students.

"I've had a mentee almost every year that the program has been in existence," Weyer Ittner said. "The only reason I've ever taken off is because I'm still spending so much time with my mentee. Every experience has been positive."

In fact, Weyer Ittner said she is not serving as a mentor this year because she's still working so closely with her mentee from last year. As the years have gone by, she said she continues to see many to this day.

"I'm older than a lot of them (my mentees), and they learn from me because I've been around the block, so to speak, but I learned so much from them," Weyer Ittner said. "They just open a whole new world to me ... It's an interesting multi-generational friendship, where you're mutually respectful of one another, you admire one another and you almost encourage one another. It's really a different kind of relationship. Sometimes, I look at my mentee as kind of being an ageless person, and they look at me as an ageless person."

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is



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