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Chrissy Renfro, NACADA Emerging Leader, ELP 2011-2013 Class

With 12,000-plus members, NACADA is a huge organization.  Many of us have wondered, “How in the world do I find my place in a group the size of a small town?”  One answer is the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP).  Started as an initiative to expand diversity of representation within the organization, the ELP has completed its fifth year of existence, and NACADA leaders consider it to be a resounding success.

Ross Hawkins.jpgThe ELP provides a vehicle for NACADA members who show leadership potential and are interested in advancing under-represented populations to be paired in a mentoring relationship with experienced leaders.  The mentors help the Emerging Leaders set goals for involvement in NACADA at all levels.  While the goal of the program is to identify and groom new leadership that represents the many faces of NACADA, both mentors and mentees say they find the benefits of the program are more than “just business.”  Ross Hawkins (Missouri State University, pictured left), an Emerging Leader in his second year of the program, said “It allowed me to have a professional contact who quickly became a mentor and friend – we built our professional relationship first, but it has become friendship.”  He adds that encouragement and professional input go both ways between himself and his mentor, Art Farlowe (University of South Carolina-Columbia), as the two have bounced ideas off each other.  Other pairs in the history of the program have also found this to be the case, supporting each other through job changes, the births of children, health issues, and more.  Leigh Cunningham, ELP liaison from the NACADA Executive Office, echoes, “All of the mentors I’ve talked to have said they have gotten more out of the relationship than they expected.”

Back in the mid-2000s, leaders in NACADA were seeing that the same people were “recycling” through top positions, and they were concerned that the leadership (as well as general membership) was not very diverse in terms of backgrounds.  Terry Musser (Pennsylvania State University), a longtime member who has held numerous leadership positions, was part of a group that was tasked with building diversity.  A mentoring program was something she’d seen in other organizations and thought it might work for NACADA.  “If you just look at the diversity of the leadership and how many more people are able to be involved in leadership roles in Lisa Peck & Rodney Mondor.jpgNACADA, I think the successes are obvious,” she says of the program now.  Rodney Mondor (University of Southern Maine, pictured right), a current mentor who is also a graduate of the 2008-2010 class, agrees.  “It has opened the conversation around diversity – by doing this, it opened the door that diversity is not always race, nationality, sexual orientation, et cetera.  It’s also about things like community colleges, private colleges, religion-affiliated colleges and universities.  That’s diversity, too.  It has opened the eyes of members to the spectrum of diversity.” According to the ELP section of the NACADA website, some of the under-represented populations ELP leaders have asked to represent include race/ethnicity, international, LGBTA, those with disabilities, veterans, 2-year institutions, proprietary colleges, private colleges, religious colleges, faculty, and specialty advising fields.

Each year, there are many more applications to be Emerging Leaders than there are slots available.  While the ELP Advisory Board is happy with the number of applicants, they would like to see the number of people volunteering to be mentors increase.  The hesitation seems to come from the concern that people aren’t qualified, says Cunningham.  “We’ve heard a number of potential mentors express their perception that mentors need to be the people they’ve seen on the stage at the annual conference – the president and members of the board of directors.  But a mentor simply needs to be a step ahead of the person he or she will mentor,” she says.  And mentors needn’t have gone through the program as mentees, either; what is needed are people with leadership experience in NACADA and the ability to network effectively within the organization.  Cunningham and two ELP Advisory Board members, Carol Pollard (University of North Texas) and Yvonne Halden (University of Manitoba), are excited that this is the first year that all mentors are new to the program.

Gehrke & Frega.jpgAt the recent annual conference in Nashville, the incoming class of Emerging Leaders and mentors followed up a series of summer “get-acquainted” assignments with an orientation session that included a version of speed-dating -- each mentor and mentee had five minutes together to compare interests and experiences.  At the end of the day, mentees rank the mentors in terms of with whom they’d most like to work. Only mentees get to make these rankings; Cunningham says mentors need to be open to working with anyone.  Cunningham, Pollard, and Halden got together the next day to review the ranking sheets and make pairing decisions.  This part of the program is more art than science; there is no rubric for matching, but rather more of an intuitive decision of who might work well together.  The three said they look for complementary types in a match, which sometimes results in very different personalities being paired.  Sometimes that yin-yang energy works even better than two people who are very similar.  Of one potential pair during the matching process, Cunningham noted, “that would not be a good match….they’d struggle to get anything done!”  They even paid close attention to body language observed during the speed-dating process, watching for pairs that seemed to “click.”  

Once the pairs are set, they are all contacted and given each other’s information so that they can get together during the conference and start the bonding process.  Mentors help mentees set personal goals for the first year, which range widely and may include involvement at both the regional and national levels.  For the 2011-2013 class, several set a goal to become chairs of Interest Groups or Commissions, while others were interested in participating on the Awards Committee, publishing, Regional Conference chair work, or presenting at an annual conference.  When the class met in Nashville and shared their progress, those goals had been met, and more – several mentees said they discovered interests or were presented with opportunities that they hadn’t anticipated.

As a group, ELP graduates have demonstrated success in their goal areas – the vast majority (45 people) have gone on to run for and be elected to chairperson positions, followed by 44 people who were involved in publications of some kind.  Others have presented in webinars, been involved in research grants, and, like Mondor, gone on to be ELP mentors themselves.  

Program leaders want to extend the reach of the program even further.  One suggestion was to have ELPers (both mentors and mentees) present at each regional conference on the program, so that members can get a more personal interaction with someone in the program.  Another outreach effort was the creation of a video with comments from mentors and mentees, and from others who have seen the growth and benefits of the program.  The hope is that this video can be shown during the presentations at conferences, or simply viewed off the website by anyone interested in the program.

So can the program ever be considered to be done?  “I hope the program will never go away, because it has clearly been so tremendously successful in encouraging leadership development,” said Cunningham.  “And we will always want to promote diversity in the leadership, so while the make-up of the classes may change over time as people articulate differently how/why they feel they are under-represented at that time in our leadership, I think it will always be beneficial to be mindful of and intentionally promoting that diversity.”

And at the very least, mentees like Angie Walston (Barton College) have seen the benefit of not remaining one of the crowd.  “It gave me a group of people within the 3,000 people at a conference that I know – a network of colleagues I wouldn’t have known otherwise.”

Renfro & Fread.jpgChrissy Renfro
Director, Advising and Career Services
Laramie County Community College
[email protected]


Applications for the 2013-2015 ELP Class will be accepted beginning January 1, 2013.  Visit the Emerging Leaders Program section of the NACADA website to learn more about the program and find application materials.

What makes for an effective ELP application?

Here are a few tips:

  • Be sure to answer each question fully and with as much detail as possible.  
  • Do some research before filling out the application – know what the goals and objectives of the program are and give some thought to what you would bring to the table in representing a group.
  • Talk with current and past Emerging Leaders and Mentors, as well as current Leaders in areas of interest.  
  • Check out the website and/or attend a conference to attain an understanding of what the leadership structure is, what the publication opportunities are, or whatever your area of interest is, so that you can make your goals as specific as possible.  
  • Make sure that the people you ask to provide letters of support will be willing to include all the information that is requested in their letter.
  • Have someone read your application before you send it, to catch any mistakes.
  • Much of the selection process is objective, but there is certainly a more subjective component such as writing ability and depth of thought.  Because the process is so competitive, EVERYTHING must be considered, and the difference between a selection and a 'not now' can be quite small.

Cite this article using APA style as:

Renfro, C. (2012, December). Emerging Leaders Program – Past, Present, and Future. Academic Advising Today, 35(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.