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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

University aims to offer opportunities for discernment through the Inspired Leadership Initiative

Notre Dame is launching the Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI), a one-year program that aims to reopen the world of higher education to people who are looking for something fulfilling to embark upon after completing a career, beginning with its first group of fellows in 2018.

The program, which ILI founding director Thomas Schreier — a 1984 Notre Dame graduate — said will continue to develop as fellows offer input over its first few years, will be made up of 25 fellows looking to discern their paths into the next phases of their lives.

“For me, it’s something which fills a void that higher education hasn’t ever addressed,” Schreier said.

Schreier said he learned about these initiatives after noticing an article about Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative on the back of his alumni magazine. Schreier applied to and was accepted into both the Harvard and Stanford programs — at the time, the only two of their kind in the country. While Schreier was deciding between the two programs, vice president for University relations Louis Nanni suggested Schreier consider starting one of these programs at Notre Dame instead.

One of the ultimate goals of the program is to make an impact in the Notre Dame community, Schreier said.

“One of the things that we’ve used to define success from the very beginning is that this program needs to be very valuable for the fellows and their spouses, because they’re going to come here and give a year of their life to participate in this program,” Schreier said. “But we believe it’s a failure if it’s not every bit as beneficial to the University and to the broader South Bend community. And I think the value there comes from the fact that you’re going to have 25 accomplished individuals and their spouses here for a full year.”

Steve Reifenberg, co-director of the Integration Lab in the Keough School of Global Affairs, said ILI presents an opportunity for these fellows to be mentors in areas of the University outside of the classroom or residence halls.

“I think fellows would find different communities that they really connected with all over the University, but one that we’d hope would be this Integration Lab where we have these kind of projects and we have these teams working on things,” he said. “ … There’s a number of ways that would be, I think, interesting for these Inspired Leadership fellows, but also really valuable for these student teams, just for an example.”

The four aspects of the Inspired Leadership Initiative that are “unapologetically Notre Dame,” Schreier said, are discernment, “an invitation to spiritual enrichment,” community and internationality. Christopher Stevens, co-founding director of ILI and a professional specialist in the Mendoza College of Business, said each of these four pillars of ILI set it apart from the established programs at Harvard and Stanford.

“For the Harvard and Stanford programs you have to pretty much know what you’re going to do before you get there,” he said. “We think that that’s maybe not the best way to approach it … so we’re going to provide a period of discovery and discernment for fellows to be able to figure out what they want to do, and expose them to all kinds of things so then that they find a passion that they really can focus on.”

Stevens said he and Schreier hope to make the cohort as diverse as possible in terms of careers, nationalities and other levels of education.

“We want people from all kinds of levels,” he said. “Whether they’ve had a successful career in education or the military, whether they’re from the United States or not, we want a really diverse cohort because one, we think it’s going to enrich each other in the cohort a lot, but we also think it’s terrific for the students. Because the interaction between the cohorts and the students and faculty at Harvard and Stanford — the fellows call it life-changing. So we want to provide at least that opportunity here as well.”

Schreier said the program seeks people who express passion for their chosen fields rather than people who have reached the pinnacle of these fields.

“What we say is we want accomplished people,” he said. “And we use that word very carefully as opposed to saying successful, because I think when people think ‘successful’ what they think is somebody who was maybe the top of a business enterprise or something like that. What we want is people who have distinguished themselves in whatever vocation they’ve chosen.”

Schreier said faculty, staff and administrators throughout the University have embraced ILI.

“Chris and I have had in excess of 130 meetings with faculty, staff and administration throughout the campus … and as we’ve had those conversations we’ve gotten amazing support from people across the entire campus,” Schreier said.

This support is essential for the program to function as intended, Stevens said.

“We’ll have advisors for the fellows to be able to help them negotiate and navigate the entire University, to pick the courses that they want, professors that are going to be most right for them,” Stevens said. “Each fellow will have a faculty adviser/mentor. So there’s ample opportunities for faculty to be advisers and mentors or for staff people like advisers in the undergraduate school and that type of thing.”

Ultimately, Schreier said he hopes ILI will make an impact beyond the fellows who participate in the program.

“I think it’s not only going to be something that’s life-changing for the people that participate in it, but I think it’s also going to be a very powerful force here on campus,” he said. “We really do take to heart the words that kind of are pervasive around campus — that if we can help to transform 25 of these people into a force for good, we will have done our job.”