LeaderShape Institute at Wake Forest University

This spring, LeaderShape and Wake Forest University partnered to host our inaugural LeaderShape Institute. Through self-assessment, intensive small group discussions, team-building challenges, and more, participants develop a vision for something they care about, bigger than themselves. A four-day immersive experience, the program brings together students and staff facilitators for a leadership opportunity that deepens, stretches, and challenges the integrity of student leaders.

In its first year, the program represented over 17 student organizations and nearly 30 participants, including resident advisors, ROTC members, and our student body president. This brought together a wide range of leadership experiences that collectively represent the Wake Forest student experience. See below to learn more about our participants’ experience as the first LeaderShape Institute cohort at Wake Forest. 

Visit LeaderShape to learn more about its more than 30 years of experience working with 50+ collegiate partners to realize its vision of creating “a just, caring, and thriving world where all lead with integrity and a healthy disregard for the impossible.” 

Hannah Elluru (’25), Student Body President

As the 2024-2025 Student Body President, Hannah is looking forward to how she will carry this experience into her leadership during her presidential term with Wake Forest Student Government. Hannah has participated in leadership conferences with other schools before, but LeaderShape is her first conference with fellow Wake Forest students, to which she is grateful. “Nobody understands the Wake Forest student experience better than the people who go here.”

Hannah Elluru pictured with her “Family Cluster” Group, led by Dr. Cherise James, Director of Orientation, New Student and Transition Programs
Dr. Nikki Elston, Assistant Teaching Professor and Assistant Dean of Academic Advising

Dr. Nikki Elston believes LeaderShape is teaching students to be strong leaders collectively and collaboratively. One of four Wake Forest staff facilitators, Elston, a professor of counseling, is also a Faculty Fellow for The Forest, our residential commons model designed to intentionally connect students to each other through their residential experience at Wake Forest. She looks forward to the program building with even more first-year student voices. “I think first-year students are just trying to find their way, especially in their first semester; I would love to see more of them come to a space like this as their authentic selves, knowing that just because you’re not an upperclassman doesn’t mean you don’t know things, it just means that you know different things.”

Nikki Elston pictured with fellow facilitators of the LeaderShape Institute
Wednesday Smetak (’26), ROTC Cadet

Introduced to the program by their ROTC Cadre Commander, best friends, and ROTC Cadets, Reesa Devers (left) and Wednesday Smetak (right), both applied and were accepted to the LeaderShape Institute. They understand that the goal of a leader should not just be about accomplishing the mission but doing so in a way that betters your personal growth and the people around you.

Reesa Devers (’26), ROTC Cadet

Sam Jones (’26), Resident Advisor, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Alpha Phi Omega

Many of the students found that the program has introduced them to peers they wouldn’t have otherwise met. It’s challenged their definitions of leadership and how to be open and vulnerable. Jones, a member of the Mental Health and Wellbeing subcommittee of SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee), who is also a CARE 101 student facilitator through our We Are Wake initiative, knows all too well the importance of open and vulnerable conversations. “The program makes it easy to be yourself. It’s teaching all of us how to authentically lead from a place of genuineness.”

The LeaderShape Cohort participating in a group discussion on Day 2 of the LeaderShape Institue
Natalia House (’26), Resident Advisor, Student Government Representative

Uncommon for Wake Forest students, many of our participants hold multiple leadership positions across campus. From Greek Life to Student Government and every Pro Humanaitate tradition in between, with over 200 organizations to choose from on our campus, LeaderShape teaches our Deacs how to put leadership into practice. “With my various leadership positions on campus, I’m looking forward to how this experience will strengthen me in each of them in different ways.”

Natalia pictured with her “family cluster” group, led by Deb Marke (’16), Assistant Director of Advocacy and Social Justice Education in the Office of Civic and Community Engagement
Kate Hafer (’25), Alpha Delta Pi, Fraternity & Sorority Life Ambassador, Alpha Kappa Psi

No matter what organizations our students are a part of or how long they’ve been “leaders,” LeaderShape opens them up to new questions, new ideas, and new ways of thinking. 91% of participants say that a LeaderShape experience helped them to develop a capacity to lead. Our Deacs have joined the club. “I approach every day as an opportunity to use my leadership skills for good, to help all of those around me.”

Kate Hafer (’25) participating in a group discussion on Day 2 of the LeaderShape Institue
Samantha Briggs (’25), Student Organizations Judicial Assembly, Student Conduct Advisor,
Fraternity & Sorority Life Ambassador

While Samantha has attended other conferences before, such as our annual ConsentCon conference dedicated to exploring the meaning and operationalization of consent on college campuses (which she helped with as a student assistant for the Division of Campus Life), she had never attended anything that focused exclusively on leadership; that is until LeaderShape. “It’s been really meaningful to understand how our identities impact who we are as leaders. I’m looking forward to how all of the tangible tools I’ll take away from LeaderShape will make me a better leader.”

Samantha Briggs pictured with her “family cluster” group, led by Aidan Walter, Campus Recreation’s Manager of Staff, Training, and Development.
Hunnter Goins (’27), First-Year student

Named a 21st-century leader in his Georgia hometown, Hunnter is excited by how his experience with LeaderShape will shape his Wake Forest experience in the years to come. “The positive outcomes of my leadership experiences extend beyond individual achievements but also encompass positive outcomes within communities and organizations. My experience says that effective leadership has the power to inspire, motivate, and empower others to reach their full potential. As I continue with my interest in the leadership journey, I am committed to leveraging my skills and experiences to make meaningful change, cultivate collaborative partnerships, and create a brighter future for generations to come.”

Hunnter Goins (left) pictured with fellow LeaderShape participant Sam Jones (right)
Safa Akhter (’27), Deacon Student Patrol, Women’s Center

Every student participant met someone new. Safa is not only excited to take back new leadership skills into their Wake Forest experience, but newfound friendships too. “If you don’t have different perspectives around you, you’re not able to see the world in a different way.

More from LeaderShape 2024