Finding a Leader in Every Student

Photo by Blake Silva


By Diego Abeloos

For Cal Poly students who want to experience a little self-discovery — and develop some critical professional skills along the way — there’s the Center for Leadership.

The center opened in April 2015 as an on-campus resource for students who seek a better understanding of leadership and want to gain valuable skills to help them achieve personal and professional success. The center offers comprehensive trainings and an a la carte menu of leadership programming for student groups.

“There are a lot of great areas of leadership happening on campus, whether a student is involved as a resident assistant, in student government, or new student programs,” says Jason Mockford, director for leadership and service. “While many of these programs are very large, they actually represent only a small percentage of the leadership opportunities for students. Our center’s focus is to provide more ways for students to interact and gain leadership skills.”

To address this need, the center offers the Emerging Leader Series, a quarterly program for students to explore leadership topics in a hands-on learning environment. Lauren Irwin, a coordinator at the center, notes that topics include teamwork and social responsibility, and at times, lesser-known concepts such as followership as a form of leadership. Fifty students completed the series during the center’s inaugural year.

“I’d say that 75 to 80 percent of the students talk about how they never thought leadership could exist outside of a positional role,” says Irwin. “They never thought they could be a leader unless they were a president or a team captain. In some ways, that’s the most empowering thing that our students leave with: a sense that, even without a title, they can affect change and be a good team member and facilitate success.”

First Impressions

All told, the center’s inaugural Emerging Leader Series gained its share of believers among participating students.

Fourth-year student Delara Ostowari says the series gave her a better understanding of various leadership styles — and how to apply them. “Everyone has leadership qualities, you just have to work on improving those qualities that you can apply to leadership,” she notes.

Her newfound knowledge served her well during a summer internship at Princess Cruise Line in Southern California, where she helped create a new career development program for employees. She plans to return to the center to lead the media, marketing and outreach committee this academic year.

Riley Ormiston, a third-year aerospace engineering student, began participating in the series in the fall of 2015 after completing a stint as a WOW leader. “I was looking for ways to get involved on campus with my suddenly empty schedule,” Ormiston notes. “I saw the opportunity to build some leadership skills — it was exactly what I was looking for.”

Ormiston will serve as a resident advisor in Trinity Hall this year and credits his participation in the series with giving him a renewed desire to get involved in campus life.

“Coming into my second year, I didn’t have that same ‘coming to college’ rush that had motivated me in my first year,” says Ormiston, who plans to stay involved with the center as a peer leader and member of its StrengthsQuest Committee this year. “My positive experience with the series reminded me how much I love leadership and service.”

Looking Ahead

With the center’s inaugural year behind them, Mockford and Irwin say they’re eyeing bigger and more ambitious offerings in the near future. Among them is the Developing Leader Series, a continuation of the Emerging Leaders Series featuring more advanced topics. The new series, offered this fall, includes hands-on experiences that engage students in designing and managing a service day, among other activities. Additionally, the center plans to expand its Emerging Leaders Series this fall by adding an alumni mentoring component. So far, 50 alumni have agreed to participate as mentors.

“They’ll be able to share and learn from their experiences as leaders — what does leadership development look like for me? How does this apply to the real world?” says Mockford. “This will add value for the students and will also reinforce the importance of what they’re learning.”

For more information on Cal Poly’s Center for Leadership, visit

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