By Carolyn Preul
Photos by Kaci Smart ’09

Natalie Caldwell ’20 and Ann Merrifield, senior director of Alumni Relations

ELI alumna Natalie Caldwell ’20 and Ann Merrifield, senior director of Alumni Relations

Since starting in 2004, more than 200 students from the Columbia College Day Program have participated in the Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI).

ELI cohorts complete a three-semester program designed to explore their leadership potential and prepare them to be engaged citizens in their community.

“ELI is an comprehensive student group that helps bring committed students together from all backgrounds, majors and interests to learn and grow in an inclusive experience,” says Sarah Naji, senior coordinator of the Center for Student Leadership. “We are proud that ELI has been established on our campus for 15 years and hope to continue the tradition of developing excellent student leaders.”

Natalie Caldwell, a senior marketing student, is a member of the 2019 cohort. In order to balance classwork, a work study job with the Office of Alumni Relations and an off-campus internship, she utilizes techniques learned through ELI to better communicate with co-workers and peers.

“By making sure I understand their strengths and True Colors that make them who they are, I am able to be a more effective leader in the workplace,” she says.

In recognition for their participation, ELI members receive two scholarships – The Cunningham Emerging Leaders Institute Award and the Andrew J. Bass Jr. Emerging Leaders Institute Completion Award.

“Columbia College is grateful to Judy Cunningham and Faye Burchard, whose foresight and generosity established this comprehensive program,” says Missy Montgomery ’06, senior director of philanthropy. “ELI propels our students to develop a personal philosophy of leadership through learning activities, inclusive experiences and civic involvement.”

Students meet weekly to engage in active discussions and reflect on the concept of leadership for social change. They also participate in professional development opportunities through mock interviews, etiquette dining, public presentations and a mentorship program that pairs students with a community member in their field of study.

“We’ve had many tough classroom conversations, such as current social issues, that have made me more aware and passionate to ignite change,” Caldwell says. “I’m using that passion in my vision project.”

The second semester focuses on individual vision projects that provide real-world experience in efforts to initiate change on a social issue of the students’ choosing.

“Through this process they develop skills such as building coalitions and gaining buy-in, working on effective communication and goal-setting through developing an action plan that addresses their campus, organizational, community or global need,” Naji says.

ELI reception in Dorsey Gym

Graduates and current students of the Emerging Leader Institute celebrated the club’s 15th anniversary at a reunion breakfast during Columbia College Homecoming Weekend.