UCF’s LEAD Scholars Academy this week was chosen as the 2019 Outstanding Leadership Program of the Year at a conference hosted in Los Angeles by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, a student affairs organization for higher education. The award recognizes programs from the association’s 1,400 campuses in 25 countries that are transforming higher education through best practices.

“I think LEAD Scholars Academy is such an important program for students since leadership is important for everyone, no matter what one’s major or future career choice may be,” says Stacey Malaret, director of the program. “Leadership will always help students stand out from their peers in a positive way. More importantly, leadership development allows our students to lead others at UCF effectively so that they too can be transformed into leaders in their own right.”

The academy was established in 1995 and this year has about 1,000 students engaged in leadership experiences, civic projects, student organizations, research and volunteer opportunities in the community. Incoming high school students apply for the first-time-in-college program and commit to a two-year leadership-development program and classes. Transfers and students in upper classes participate in U-LEAD, semester-long programs that focus on leadership tracks. Other programs offered include a virtual-leadership academy and the Clinton Global Initiative University, which each year hosts a meeting to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges.

“Our motto in LEAD is ‘To Learn, To LEAD, and To Serve.’”

“Our motto in LEAD is ‘To Learn, To LEAD, and To Serve.’ By combining the academic knowledge of leadership studies in the classroom, the opportunity to lead through high-impact co-curricular activities and serve others in the community this allows UCF to create the best well-rounded students,” Malaret says. “By having trained leaders, who also have a social-change mindset, it allows our community partners to thrive and receive the help they need to make Central Florida a better place to live.”

A key part of the academy is volunteer service, with students donating more than 18,000 hours of work last year.

The biggest project is the Knights Helping Knights Pantry, which was started by LEAD Scholars and this month celebrated its 10th anniversary. The pantry last year distributed nearly 70,000 pounds of food, clothing, cleaning supplies and other products to students in need.

Other LEAD Scholars have started programs such as Hearts for the Homeless, which provides health screenings to Orlando’s homeless population, and Green Greeks, an effort to educate students about the importance of harvesting produce locally to help end food insecurity.

LEAD Scholars serve on an alternative break trip each spring (a group is currently in New Orleans) and various other nonprofits in Central Florida, and one first-year LEAD Scholar was just approved to install a sunscreen dispenser at the Recreation and Wellness Center’s leisure pool to reduce the risk of skin cancer.

“Students come up with service project ideas in many different ways. They are able to brainstorm ideas in class, through casual conversations in our office, etc.,” Malaret says. “We help them with resources to allow them to become social change agents on campus and assist in mentoring them along the way.”

The director says LEAD Scholars is unique in Florida because of the hybrid approach with curricular and co-curricular programs to develop leadership.

“We like to take the best of both worlds and combine them into one leadership program so that students are able to learn about leadership inside the classroom, then practice it outside of the classroom through service-learning and other high impact co-curricular learning opportunities, creating a well-rounded leadership learning opportunity.”