“Getting the job done in a human way”: William E. Hay Leadership Accelerator Convenes

Students building marshmallow structure: Student teams competed to build the tallest spaghetti-and-marshmallow structure -- and learn how different kinds of leaders emerge from within teams in the process.

Student teams competed to build the tallest spaghetti-and-marshmallow structure — and learn how different kinds of leaders emerge from within teams in the process. [Image by Kathy Hillegonds.]

By Meredith Carroll

What does leadership look like? Not just in general, or for people in positions of power, but for you, right now?

These are the kinds of questions that the inaugural cohort of the William E. Hay Leadership Accelerator will work together to answer. The cohort met for the first time on Friday, September 15, kicking off a year of collaborative workshops, networking opportunities, and other programming designed to empower students to lead with purpose.

To Meghan Anderson, a senior studying digital marketing,  the accelerator’s approach to developing leadership skills felt familiar.

“You can be a leader at every level,” said Anderson. It’s a piece of advice an internship supervisor gave her early in her time at DePaul and it’s stuck with her ever since. “Often, that looks like having really good soft skills, or being a really good listener.”

Anderson is part of a select group of forty juniors and seniors from across DePaul. Together, the Hay scholars represent 21 majors – ranging from theatre and animation to finance and marketing. Forty percent of the scholars are first-generation college students. Half of the cohort are students of color.

Over the coming months, students will learn directly from real-world experts and engage in experiential exercises and self-reflection. In this way, the accelerator offers a rare opportunity; these experiences were modeled after the top training programs in companies known for their emphasis on professional development. In recognition of this effort, each student will receive a $2,500 scholarship and a certificate of completion.

Most importantly, the accelerator will  equip students to enter the workforce as purposeful leaders. With learning opportunities spanning skill assessments, in-person and live sessions, as well as microlearning, the accelerator leverages multiple tactics to deliver engaging and impactful experiences to boost leadership competencies. Students will also participate in résumé reviews, job interview skills exercises, and networking opportunities – gaining skills that are critical to employability and career building.

In-depth and focused leadership training is rare in companies even at senior levels, according to Professor and William E. Hay Leadership Fellow Erich Dierdorff. Dierdorff leads the program along with Associate Dean of Graduate and Executive Education Robert S. Rubin and Associate Director of Operations Clarissa Short.

“To have something like this at the undergraduate level is exceptionally rare and represents such a unique opportunity for our students to get significant boosts in the competencies that we know underlie long-term professional success,” Dierdorff said.

These skills are only becoming more crucial in a workplace environment that is rapidly changing. A recent study by Business Name Generator surveyed 1,000 employees and employers across the U.S. to uncover the changing demand for soft skills in the workplace. Findings indicated that 84% of employees and managers believe new employees must demonstrate soft skills upon entering the organization. Foremost among these? Leadership, which was the skill rated most valuable for career advancement.

For many Hay scholars, like Meghan Anderson, it was precisely the chance to develop these soft skills – and to develop them in collaboration with others – that drew them to the accelerator.

“When you’re a college student, you get so focused in on your major. This is an opportunity to meet new people and broaden your horizons,” said Harper McCoy, a senior majoring in film and television who hopes to become a film director.

Andrew Gomes, a junior studying finance, cited his experience launching an investment club in high school as the beginning of his leadership journey.

“I want to contribute value to the next generation,” he said of his career goals. “Maybe one day I’ll be able to help a student like me.”

And in this emphasis on people and purpose, the accelerator is part of a broader legacy left by  William E. Hay (MBA ’66, DHL ’06), a longtime trustee and benefactor of DePaul.

The inaugural cohort pictured with President Robert L. Manuel.

The inaugural cohort pictured with President Robert L. Manuel. [Image by Kathy Hillegonds.]

“Hay didn’t just the job done,” said DePaul President Robert L. Manuel in his remarks to the  cohort. “He got it done in a human way.”

A substantial gift from Hay’s estate funded  the founding of the Hay Center for Leadership Development, which houses programs in executive education along with the leadership accelerator.

“You can study management and business” at any number of schools, Manuel concluded. “But to couple that with the human, organic nature of the world — that’s a special gift.”

The William E. Hay Leadership Accelerator is a comprehensive, co-curricular leadership development experience open to juniors and seniors from across DePaul. Students can  learn more and apply here.


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