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Washburn University to Host Third High School Leadership Academy

06/04/19 12:06 pm CDT
"Initiatives like the High School Leadership Academy allow our students to practice and refine their skills"

     Topeka, Kan. – Twenty-four high school students from eight Shawnee County high schools will participate in the third annual High School Leadership Academy (HSLA) June 19 – 15, 2019 at Washburn University. HSLA is hosted by the Washburn University Leadership Institute, and is created and implemented by current Washburn University students. A three-year grant from the Topeka Community Foundation provided funding to launch this program

     The mission of HSLA is to develop leadership skills in high school students and create a greater awareness about ways they, personally, can influence positive change in their communities. Student participants will live on the Washburn campus for the week and will be guided through a comprehensive program that will introduce concepts from the Kansas Leadership Center, including awareness and application of the four competencies of Diagnosing the Situation, Managing Self, Energizing Others, and Intervening Skillfully.

     Marsha Pope, president of the Topeka Community Foundation, speaks to the value this program brings to developing leadership capacity in the youth of Shawnee County. “As we look to develop home-grown talent in Topeka, we believe this grant opens doors for collaborative work in finding opportunities to benefit our community.”

     Throughout the week-long program, students will experience site visits, tours, interactive presentations and guest speakers. Each day will include social activities as well as time for processing in small groups.  Peer mentors from the Washburn Leadership Institute will help facilitate the academy. Student participants spend time engaging with representatives from sectors of the community, including business, government, education, non-profit, philanthropy, health, and public safety to gain understanding about the role each of these areas plays in creating a healthy and thriving community.

     “Initiatives like the High School Leadership Academy allow our students to practice and refine their skills,” said Dr. Michael Gleason, director of the Washburn University Leadership Institute. “These partnerships help foster networks that benefit their education and future career goals.”

     This year’s program is coming off the heels of two successful programs in 2017 and 2018, with student participants demonstrating growth in the areas of Topeka and Shawnee County community pride, community understanding, self-understanding and the ability to create change, and networking.

     An important part of the program involves students identifying a complex challenge that exists in their school, neighborhood, or community and then applying leadership concepts to explore how they might help create positive change around this issue. Past examples of projects students have sought to make progress on include suicide prevention in teens, social media safety, changing perceptions of low-income communities, mental health awareness, combating poverty/food insecurity through school food pantries, and a texting and driving campaign.

     Participation in the High School Leadership Academy is limited to rising high school juniors in Shawnee County. Potential participants were nominated for the academy by school administrators and had to submit an application. Applicants were notified in April that they had been selected to participate in the program by a public tapping ceremony. Claire Leffingwell, a junior at Washburn University and the High School Leadership Academy Fellow in charge of coordinating the event, along with other current Washburn Leadership Institute students serving as peer mentors for the summer program, went to each high school to publicly award selected recipients with their acceptance letter.

     “The High School Leadership Academy is an experience that shapes the lives and enhances the perspectives of both high school and college students. I love HSLA because of the passion that the young people bring to the program, both for their community and for the change that they recognize is needed” said Leffingwell. “Sometimes, the future looks bleak. Every year, I am astounded by the leadership and vision that the students possess, and the voice that they use is impressive. I hope that the students gain connections in their network with the community leaders, other students, and other people they interact with, as well as the self-efficacy required to make positive change in their community and in the world.”

Quotes from 2018 participants:

     Nikky Bloomquist, a 2017 HSLA participant and a recent graduate from Shawnee Heights High School, said, “HSLA showed me how I can be a leader in my community NOW and not just years from now when I’m an adult. I learned about how amazing my city is, and I wanted to become more and more involved in Topeka because of what I learned from HSLA.”

     Similarly, Bryce Liedtke, a rising senior at Shawnee Heights and a 2018 participant, said, “The High School Leadership Academy was an amazing experience that allowed me to grow as leader, create a network of other youth leaders in my community, and most importantly, embrace my love for Topeka. I was able to establish meaningful connections and ‘see behind the curtains’ of all the amazing things happening in Topeka. It opened my lens and appreciation of Topeka; I saw the change, the momentum, the eagerness from adults to listen to youth, and the desire to have youth stay in Topeka. I often say you cannot love something you do not understand. For me, this was Topeka. Through HSLA, I gained understanding and fell in love with my community.”

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Editor’s Note: List of 2019 participants.

First Name

Last Name

High School



Hayden High School



Hayden High School



Hayden High School



Hayden High School


De La Rosa

Highland Park High School



Highland Park High School



Highland Park High School



Highland Park High School



Highland Park High School



Rossville High School



Rossville High School



Seaman High School

Mary Paige


Seaman High School



Seaman High School



Shawnee Heights High School



Shawnee Heights High School



Topeka High School



Topeka High School



Topeka High School



Topeka West High School



Topeka West High School



Topeka West High School



Washburn Rural High School



Washburn Rural High School



Washburn University
Joy Bailes, (785) 670-2153
Assistant Director of University Relations
(785) 230-1648 (cell)

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