Marcia Layton Turner
State University of New York at Geneseo

As part of the college experience, most students gain leadership, teamwork and personal skills—and these are characteristics among the most-prized by prospective employers. Thomas Matthews, associate dean of leadership and service at SUNY Geneseo, saw the common ground and in 2000 developed a leadership program to formalize and track the skill-building.

The result was the GOLD program, which stands for Geneseo Opportunities for Leadership Development. The program, which ends in a certificate of completion, combines required courses with practical, no-cost workshops.

Because the program was introduced in an Olympic year, the levels of achievement were named after Olympic medals related to areas of focus—bronze (life skills), silver (practicing leadership) and gold (personal leadership).

To earn a certificate, students must complete four core one-hour workshops and four electives, plus write a journal reflection on what they learned in each class. Each level is sequential and requires an additional eight workshops before the next certificate is awarded.

The original set of three leadership certificates has expanded to 11, which includes additional standalone certificates, such as Amethyst Global Leadership and Ruby Information Management and Digital Leadership, among others. The number of program modules has also mushroomed, from 86 to more than 400, based on requests from students, employers, alumni and even parents.

The certificates help attract attendees, thanks in part to rising interest in badges and other résumé-compatible methods of recognizing achievement, says Matthews. The program’s custom-designed online tracking system allows students to monitor their progress, submit their journal reflections and register for workshops.

While acquiring new skills is important, the journal entry required for workshop credit is “one of the best things in the whole program,” Matthews says. The 250- to 500-word reflection pieces must tell a story that connects to a skill learned in the workshop and indicate how students will use that skill in the future.

“We force them to process what they’re hearing and learning,” says Matthews. And that’s where the aha moments occur.

Success Data Points

  • 37%: Current students who have taken at least one workshop (2,502 during the 2015-16 school year)
  • 96%: Students, of 7,324 surveyed, who have participated in GOLD and expect to use the skills learned now and in the future
  • 94%: GOLD alumni who indicate the program helped them to become more effective leaders