"What are we doing to prepare Old Dominion University students for life after graduation?" Austin Agho, provost and vice president for academic affairs, asked in 2017.

By May 2018, his staff responded with LeADERS.

The Leadership, ePortfolio, Academic Internship, Diversity, Entrepreneurship, Research, Service Learning (LeADERS) program is an academic and professional development program at ODU that connects undergraduate students to enriching courses and experiences.

Students participate in LeADERS courses and activities and develop an electronic portfolio (or ePortfolio) to showcase their learning and abilities.

LeADERS is also a recognition program for students who complete three, four or five course areas and create an ePortfolio. Upon graduation they earn a bronze, silver or gold medal and transcript designations.

Eighty graduates from the 2020 spring, summer and winter semesters were recognized during the most-recent virtual LeADERS medal ceremony.

The keynote speaker, alumna Bethany Elliott spoke about how LeADERS supported her goals after graduation.

"The courses that I took for the LeADERS program helped me prepare for both my current job and for my graduate program," she said. "I learned how to manage my time and feel confident applying for jobs, speaking about my experiences in interviews, and entering the workforce and graduate school."

Elliott, who graduated with a LeADERS bronze medal, earned a B.S. in psychology and a minor in management in 2019.

While program graduates complete their own combination of LeADERS courses and experiences, the common element that highlights their professional growth is their ePortfolio, which serves as a reflection activity and employment tool to showcase their knowledge, skills and experiences.

Elliott shared that the ePortfolio "was instrumental in showcasing (her) skills for graduate school." When completing her graduate school applications, Elliott provided a link to her ePortfolio to set herself apart from other applicants.

She also referenced the LeADERS program and ePortfolio in her job interview for the position she currently holds at CHEMTREC. "My employers were very impressed with my extracurricular involvement throughout my undergraduate career," Elliott said.

She is also a graduate student at George Mason University.

While it is not uncommon for higher education institutions to emphasize experiential learning opportunities for its students, the ODU's LeADERS program provides students with a unique setting in which they are asked to think more intentionally about their collection of experiences throughout their time at ODU and how these experiences helped to prepare them for their chosen careers.

These program elements help foster a sense of commitment to the program and community among its students and program alumni.

"I feel that we are all a part of this amazing LeADERS community," Elliott said. "We all have so much to learn from each other; we all have different strengths and skills with a similar passion for enhancing our education and achieving our goals. By discussing the impact that the LeADERS program had on me, I hope to open the door for more discussions between LeADERS members and alumni."

For more information about the LeADERS program, visit the website or contact Jennifer Grimm at jgrimm@odu.edu in the Center for High Impact Practices.

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