WHEN 20-YEAR-OLD MASON STEWART HEADED off to college in the Fall of 2008, he felt ready . . . ready for a change from high school, ready for new experiences, ready for the challenges college life might bring. He found all of this and more through the University of Kentucky’s Emerging Leader Institute.
The ELI program accepts only 25 students from the freshman and sophomore classes each semester. Interested students must apply for the program, with selection based on co-curricular involvements, leadership experience, and personal statements. The ELI combines a three-credit hour class, mentor groups, group projects, and individual projects.
Mason decided to apply after a friend who was in the program suggested it during Mason’s first semester at UK. Participation in the program appealed to Mason. “I had learned about leadership in high school through my involvement with Scouting and school organizations. When I went to UK, I wanted to learn first hand from those who have set strong leadership examples.” Mason applied and was accepted into the ELI program for the Spring 2009 semester.
“I really enjoyed the class,” Mason says, noting that Dr. Lee Todd, UK president, Mitch Barnhart, Athletic Director, and Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry were among the guest speakers the class hosted. “We learned how different leadership styles and different strengths can work together to achieve a common goal.”
As part of a small group working on a chosen project, Mason worked to open Alumni Gym to student use. He explains that the South Campus location of the student gym is a 20-minute walk for residents of North Campus, while the Alumni Gym is conveniently located near North Campus residents. “For safety’s sake, this issue becomes even more important when it is winter and the weather is extremely cold,” Mason comments. Working together, the group was able to get a pilot program implemented for the Fall 2009 semester, allowing student use of Alumni Gym. “The pilot program was not easy to get,” says Mason, explaining that the group had to bring staff from various departments together, address budget concerns, and implement publicity to let students know about the pilot program.
In addition to learning through class projects, guest speakers, and the course instructor, Mason says that students in the class learned from one another. “We were a diverse class, with students from Puerto Rico, India, and from all over the U.S.; a significant element of the class was discussion.” Discussions included such topics as ethics, financial responsibility, leadership in the community, diversity, and values.
And even with the classroom portion of the ELI program behind Mason, this emerging leader believes he will continue to benefit from the program. “The overall idea of the group project (which is still active) is to learn about networking, communicating and compromising to get something done,” he says. “As I continue meeting new people and exchanging ideas, I will continue to learn.”
A Paducah Tilghman graduate, Mason is now a sophomore Biology major at UK and plans on becoming a pharmacist. He is the son of Maurie McGarvey and Mitchell Stewart, both of Paducah.