A diverse group at West Virginia University recently created a guide for fans visiting the University City for football games. Another developed educational tools for grade school students at daycare on days when there’s no school but parents are working.

Two other groups helped hone different aspects of the WVU experience – one conducted a survey to determine how staff could better help WVU researchers while another set up a standardized criteria and guidelines for a student honor.

The groups included a broad range of supervisors and managers from across the University but they had one thing in common: they’re all graduates of WVU’s Mountaineer Leadership Academy.

MLA will hold its third commencement ceremony Thursday, but the graduation experience at this unique leadership training is quite different than it is in a traditional academic setting. While most graduates focus their energy on getting jobs, many MLA participants remain in the program to further develop their management and leadership skills.

“This isn’t a program where you walk in, sit down, someone talks to you, you say, ‘Thanks,’ and leave,” Kelli Jo McNemar, senior training and development specialist at WVU said.

MLA, developed by the Training and Development unit of WVU Human Resources, accepts up to 50 applications each year from among the 1,500 supervisors and managers on campus. The program is more than an educational experience – it’s an investment. McNemar said the University spends $800 per year on each participant.

And what separates it from typical management training seminars is activity – lots of it.

Much of the focus in the first year is not only getting to know the individuals in the program but getting to know their jobs and the unique challenges they face. Participants also complete a comprehensive Gallup assessment that determines whether they excel in one of four categories: relationship-building, strategic thinking, influencing or executing. Along with the categories, participants are given a short synopsis of their skills based on their responses.

Click to hear Angela Caudill talk about what she has learned about leadership from MLA.

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“There were some surprises for me,” Angela Caudill, director of design, said of the results. “Being an achiever, I felt, was one of my strengths. And I’m a creative person, not someone who would be good at analyzing numbers or data. But I ended up having a strength in each of the four areas.”

Matt Wells, director of sports marketing for WVU Athletics, had a similar reaction.

“For the most part, it was kind of what I expected,” he said. “But there were some intriguing revelations as to what the tests showed in terms of what I would have said. There were a few areas that the test showed I was strong in that maybe I wouldn’t have thought off the top of my head. And there were some other areas where maybe I thought I was stronger than what the test showed.”

In MLA’s second year, called STEP+ Team Projects, the trainees apply their knowledge by building a team to complete a project that will solve a problem at the University level.

“In your second year you have to be committed,” said Caudill, who was part of the Creative Experiential Wellness (CREW) team that created educational modules that may one day play a key role in educating state youth about wellness. “You have to not only complete the class work but also the team project, which takes a lot of time and hard work. But it’s worth it. I learned a lot.”

Click to hear Matt Wells talk about the benefits of MLA and the STEP + Team Projects in MLA's second year.

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For Wells, the second-year project encompassed several ideas that had been surfacing around Athletics over the last few years. Complaints from fans of opposing teams visiting Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium had started to create a negative perception.

Wells’ team, Lead By Example, realized that incidents occur each year at every major college football venue but that the behavior, although involving a minority of fans, can ruin the entire reputation of a school’s supporters. More than an athletics problem, the team recognized that the issue not only involved respect and courtesy but also had additional implications.

In one email Wells shared with the group, a fan vowed never to come to Morgantown for a game. Another came from a student considering WVU for graduate school. The student destroyed the application after being mistreated at the stadium.

If not addressed, the team thought, fans turning away from Morgantown would cost the town tourism dollars and the University potential students and national goodwill.

“When you visit Morgantown for a football game, you’re eating in Morgantown’s restaurants, you’re staying in Morgantown’s hotels,” Wells said. “If fans stop coming in numbers, it can have an impact on the local economy.

“We wanted to do something to help improve that negative perception and, even more, we wanted to reach out and be more welcoming to opposing teams’ fans.”

The guide includes a road map, stadium and parking map, a schedule for shuttle service to the stadium and other information about game days. It will be distributed through the ticket offices of opposing teams and available at area hotels and the Morgantown Convention and Visitors Bureau, who came aboard as one of the project’s sponsors.

Lead By Example, included Lisa Ammons and April Messerly, also from Athletics, but also Andy and Emily Pertl from the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, Gloria Larew from the Stewart Hall EBO and Tammy Bishoff from Extended Learning.

Wells said having perspectives outside of Athletics was invaluable to the project both as a learning and team-building tool.

“I think everybody in our group did a good job of listening to ideas,” Wells said. “Nobody in the group walked away with every idea that they had being implemented but nobody walked away without any of their ideas being implemented. Everybody contributed and added to the overall project.”

Caudill’s team also blended well. She and fellow members Nathan Harlan, Colleen Harshbarger and Forrest Schwartz produced materials to educate children in grades three through five about wellness, including teaching modules about stress, physical activity and nutrition. The materials included a game and surveys that could be taken home to families. The materials tied in to WVU Extension programs such as Wellness Day and its Families and Health programs and would be used on days when the children wouldn’t have school but the parents would typically be at work.

Extension agents in each county would serve as facilitators, delivering the material to daycares and community centers and training instructors. Caudill said the team brought in Meghan Phillips, a doctoral student from the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, to give them feedback and help teach the material.

Like Wells, Caudill was impressed with the way her team developed the project through interaction.

“I learned that it’s true – the best way to build your team is to base it on people that have certain talents or gifts that are different from yourself,” Caudill said. “When you pull in different team members that have different strengths you can accomplish more. Because people are working in an area of strength, they want to do it and they will do a much better job.”



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