North Central College - Naperville, IL

Realizing the Vision Through Academics and Engagement Outside the Classroom

Danielle Cifonie ’10 admits she didn’t know what the new Blue Key Society was all about when she was inducted in May 2008. Now president of North Central College’s chapter, which honors campus leaders, she is part of a very visible effort to help students integrate Leadership, Ethics and Values (LEV) into their college careers.

“Blue Key members serve as LEV ambassadors and get the word out to students about how to get involved in LEV activities and how they can add a minor or concentration in LEV,” says Cifonie, organizational communication major.

“It’s something I wish I’d known about when I first started.” As Blue Key ambassadors, campus leaders like Cifonie are bringing a new energy to the program by revamping the former Emerging Leaders training program, now called Leaders In Training, developing a new honor code, distributing information about LEV during summer orientation and encouraging students to consider taking classes toward new concentrations in either ethics or leadership, or perhaps pursue a minor in leadership or conflict resolution.

The goal of the program remains the same after 20 years—to encompass curricular, co-curricular, experiential learning and leadership training and connect LEV with every student on campus. That goal is a key component of the strategic plan, and has led to the creation of a broad array of opportunities designed to capture students’ interests in myriad ways.

Pre-med major adds concentration

Two newly added concentrations in leadership and ethics integrate academic courses and leadership activities and service experiences.

Marlon Brown ’11 has decided to pursue a concentration in ethics to complement his biochemistry major. “I want to go into medicine and I decided to take up this concentration because there are significant ethical issues surrounding medicine and general science, especially in areas such as genetic engineering and stem cell research,” he says.


To promote servant-leadership, the College has created awards to honor alumni and students.

The Wall of Witness Award, presented at Homecoming, honors alumni like Sheldon Trapp ’57, who worked for decades to address the issues of poverty in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. At the College’s annual Honors Convocation, a highlight is the Servant Leader Award. Student Kathryn Pfefferle ’09 earned it in 2008 for her countless hours as an academic tutor in several campus programs and her community volunteerism with an animal humane society. “Being part of LEV has reinforced my desire to become involved and to make an impact on the community,” she says.

Capstone experiences

Faculty introduce LEV themes in classes across disciplines and since 2000, every student prior to graduation has taken an upper level LEV seminar.

For example, in Social Class in American Society, Lou Corsino, professor of sociology, asks his students to consider the imbalance of world wealth and then assume a leadership role in bringing about change. “We talk about leadership styles and how far do you go in becoming confrontational to address social injustices,” says Corsino.

Given the current state of the economy, the themes of leadership, ethics and values are hot topics in a senior financial accounting seminar, currently taught by David Gray, assistant professor of accounting. “We discuss the issues of the day and I try to help the students think about how corporations might manage for short-term benefits and manipulate earnings,” he says.


Corsino is also leading an effort to restructure the First Year Experience (FYE) program for new students. LEV themes will be emphasized through the discussion of case studies that are at the heart of a new one-credit FYE academic course.

“Incoming students should be exposed to LEV and we’re trying to be more cohesive in our approach,” he says.

A summer reading program started in 2007 will continue for first-year students. The Class of 2013 will be asked to read Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders With America’s Illegal Migrants by Ted Conover, which will spur discussion about illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, Corsino says. As in past years, a campus speaker will reinforce the reading.

The vision for LEV has always been that “it should be a leavening in things going on across campus, not a discipline unto itself,” says Tom Cavenagh, Schneller Sisters Professor of Leadership, Ethics and Values and director of the LEV program.

“The fact that it’s not just a degree but instead integrated into all academic disciplines, student affairs and athletics makes our program unique. Our goal is to truly support the mission of preparing students to be informed, involved principled and productive citizens.”

Dispute Resolution

The Dispute Resolution Center, which Cavenagh founded in 1996, continues to engage students who want to gain experience in conflict resolution for careers in law and business. More than 100 students take graduate and undergraduate courses in dispute resolution, teach peer mediation at local schools, present on-campus seminars and deliver other peer mediation services.

Cavenagh has also been involved with athletic mentoring programs and encouraging leadership among student-athletes.

“Two LEV students helped create the Varsity Course for first-year student-athletes,” he says. His annual contribution to the Varsity Course is leading a session on teamwork called “From Me to We: Building our Community.”

Currently, several LEV students and Cavenagh are developing a new honor code for the College. “It will be a statement of beliefs and values rather than a set of rules,” he explains. “There would be statements reflecting the institution’s values and then a list of beliefs about academics, athletics and residence life. All incoming students would be asked to understand it and sign it.”

Blue Key member Alex Knobloch ’10, a student-athlete who’s involved with the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, is helping create the honor code and is taking pre-med courses. “These are important values for students to take away from their college experience,” he says. “A good leader has strong morals. If more people took these principles seriously, we wouldn’t have as many problems in the world as we do today.”

North Central NOW Spring 2009