Leading with distinction

For years, University of South Carolina students have dedicated hundreds of hours to community service, worked as peer leaders, studied abroad and completed research as undergraduates. Now, nearly 100 of these students will make up the first class to graduate with leadership distinction.

The recognition was approved in 2013 by the faculty senate and administrators immediately began working with rising seniors whose level of participation qualified them for the recognition with just a few tasks to complete.

"It is totally consistent with the four learning outcomes for USC Connect," says Irma Van Scoy, executive director of the universitywide initiative to enhance education at the Carolina. "It's about having purposeful beyond-the-classroom experiences, connecting those to within-the-classroom experiences, then applying that learning to make a difference, which is leadership."

To graduate with leadership distinction with a bachelor's degree, a student must complete one of the following:

  • 300 hours of community service

  • 300 hours of peer leadership and internships

  • one semester of study abroad

  • two semesters of extensive research.

Students also must have at least a 3.0 GPA, complete additional course work and activities related to their area of distinction as well as make presentations highlighting their research. Finally, students document all of their efforts and what they learned from their activities in an e-portfolio.

"This really fits in with what a lot of really great USC students are already doing," says Nick Vaught, who was hired last year to help manage the program. "They are being very actively engaged, not only here on campus, but also outside in the community and through study abroad. So this is taking their exceptional participation and grounding it with their coursework and tying it all together."

Making those connections was what drew Bethany Schifflin to complete the work to graduate with leadership distinction in May.

"It just tells me that everything I've done at Carolina and coming here has been worth it," says Schifflin, 21, from Centreville, Va., majoring in public relations. "It was a way to reflect upon all my experiences at USC in a way that's meaningful and makes sense."

Schifflin's leadership area is professional and civic engagement and on her way to earning the distinction, she completed a half-dozen internships that she hopes lead to her getting a job at a public relations agency.

Mitchell Hammonds' leadership role focused on enhancing the university's new weeklong orientation program for incoming freshmen, Pillars for Carolina.

"We see so often that students get recognized for academics but not for the other things they do to make a difference here on campus," says Hammonds, a 22-year-old visual communications major from Greenville. "Now I can take that and reflect on how I can use my experiences to get a job out in the real world."

Learn more

USC Connect is hosting a daylong conference May 12 at the Hollings Library that includes helping faculty understand how they can help students graduate with leadership distinction. To learn more, contact USC Connect.

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