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Greek Leadership Academy carries academic credit

Chapter officers
Chapter officers from Cornell's sororities and fraternities now receive academic credit for attending the annual Greek Leadership Academy.

Now in its third year, the Greek Leadership Academy (GLA) at Cornell is being recognized for its value and importance by the student and faculty communities alike.

Since its founding in fall 2011, chapter officers from the vast majority of sororities and fraternities have experienced the five-week program, which includes evening classes and a run through Cornell Outdoor Education’s Hoffman Challenge Course. The GLA now carries academic credit, a sign of faculty commitment and investment.

And partway through the five-year financial model established by Vice President Susan Murphy – essentially, 100 percent start-up funding from Student and Academic Services, decreasing year by year to zero – chapters are stepping up with their own dollars to secure the program’s future.

“The whole purpose of GLA is to support chapter leaders in fulfilling their responsibilities as agents of a strong and positive Greek culture at Cornell,” explains Amy Kohut, director of the Cornell Team & Leadership Center, part of Cornell Outdoor Education. “We wanted a program that is rooted in the theories and principles of leadership, and at the same time is experiential and tangible. Student leaders are immediately practicing what they learn as they go about their significant responsibilities as chapter officers.”

Hoffman Challenge Course

Cornell Outdoor Education’s Hoffman Challenge Course is one of the largest intercollegiate ropes courses in the country.

COE Director Marc Magnus-Sharpe explains: “With over 50 low and high element challenges, the range of activities has been selected to cater to groups with diverse goals and abilities. Imagine being 40 feet in the air, working your way across a 30-foot chasm between trees as you swing from rope vines, all the while securely anchored by harness and on belay.

“Thrilling isn’t a strong enough word to describe the experience. After the challenge course, new members will certainly have stories to tell, of shared adventure and new bonds formed,” Magnus-Sharpe says.

Travis Apgar, associate dean in the Office of Fraternities, Sororities and Independent Living, says, “Alumni have been at the core of our planning and guidance for the leadership academy.” He points to John Foote ’74, a member of the Fraternity and Sorority Advisory Committee; Ralph Wilhelm ’67; and Kristen Rupert ’74. “Increasingly, chapters and their alumni are seeing the value of the academy, and are allocating their own resources to make it available to leaders in their chapters.”

Cornell Outdoor Education Director Marc Magnus-Sharpe, new in his role as of October, immediately embraced the academy’s core goals: developing students’ leadership skills while building trust and teamwork among the membership. He says, “Leadership is about discovering you have more in you than you know. That discovery is at the heart of our work with students. And we use some pretty amazing resources to bring that about.”

The Hoffman Challenge Course is an adventurous part of the chapter officers’ program each fall – and a suggested resource for incoming sisters and brothers during the new-member period in the spring. “After the challenge course, new members will certainly have stories to tell – the kind that parents look forward to hearing,” Magnus-Sharpe says.

Marcia Eames-Sheavly, the faculty member who sponsored the Greek Leadership Academy this year (ALS4940), is equally encouraged. “Now students are telling us this program has a huge impact – and has tremendous potential not just for their leadership roles in Greek life but, ultimately, as they prepare for the workplace,” she says.

Eames-Sheavly, professor of horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, knows what GLA participants are thinking because they’re required to write a “reflection paper” before graduation from the academy.

“No one saw me as a leader before,” wrote one GLA grad who was subsequently elected new member education coordinator. “However, my interview and speech about leadership and what I would do changed my sisters’ minds.”

Among other accolades for GLA were “comprehensive and enlightening” and “arsenal of leadership-specific skills” and “made us realize the impact we can have.”

More than 90 percent of participants agree or strongly agree with the statement, “I am a better leader.” And 92 percent agree, with confidence: “I am aware of how power and belonging affect people’s behavior in social situations.”

With that kind of feedback, in addition to the benefit of academic credit, Kohut promises, Cornell’s Greek Leadership Academy will be a popular destination for Greek leaders in the fall.

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John Carberry