Blake Cook, director of the Servant Leadership program, discusses his efforts with Kiwanian Sharon Gross after the Dec. 30 meeting. (Special Photo: David Shivers)
ALBANY — A growing program at Darton State College is combining education with leadership and community service.
Darton’s Dean of Institutional Advancement and Public Relations Tracy Goode and Director of Servant Leadership and Continuing Education Blake Cook spoke to the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County about the Servant Leadership program at the club’s final meeting of the year on December 30.
Servant Leadership, according to Goode, began several years ago through the vision of Dr. Gary Barnett, who wanted to find a way to involve students in personal development through community service.
Said Goode, “Part of our job is to bring the best and brightest students from around this area, the nation, and even around the world to Darton State College. Part of what I do is raise money with (DoCo Kiwanian) Joe Powell and others on our foundation board, and part of what they want to do is improve work readiness, and part of what Darton does is enrich the entire student. That’s what Blake Cook does continuing education. Servant Leadership speaks to the whole student.”
Goode continued that interim college president Dr. Paul Jones “is here with a vision to continue the great work that we’ve been doing and to raise the bar for the future, and part of the way you do that is you bring these students up through Servant Leadership and other opportunities that are at Darton. We are bringing in some of the most talented faculty and staff that I’ve ever seen….We want to make sure that our students are learning from the best.”
Goode noted that in its almost-50-year history, “just over 50,000 students have come through Darton State College. Of those, 16,000 have earned a certificate or an associate degree.”
“We want to change the lives of our students and positively impact our community and region,” he concluded.
Cook addressed the importance of developing leadership skills.
“Many of you were fortunate to learn leadership skills or life lessons from your parents, from your grandparents, your mentors in life,” Cook said. “Would you agree with that? I was. I know I had people in my life, my parents, my grandparents, who really made a true impact on me forever.
“I’ve talked to people at Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, all across the nation, who’ve run in the same issues, where the students do not have these leadership skills. Where you went to college and you had a foundation, a lot of these students do not have the same foundation. So, as Tracy was saying, Dr. Barnett had a vision several years ago of starting a servant leadership program. Many schools have (curriculum) leadership courses such as Theories of Leadership or Business Organization, things like that. Those are great on the educational side. But we wanted something that students could get directly involved in that would give them the experience to really become a leader.”
Starting with only seven students a couple of years ago, the program has grown to include about 300, said Cook.
“On the leadership side at Darton we focus on the strengths of each individual student. We put them through a strength assessment” to discover what the student is good at and what they like to do.
“Number two, we also work on the student’s personal organization…how do you set goals for your life, how do you set a calendar and how do you plan your day most effectively. I believe that the best thing we can do for our students is to show them how they can use their time most effectively, most efficiently. We also give our students an opportunity to go through courses in communication and how to build their communication skills, to really take what they’ve learned and share that with people around them.”
On the servant side, there have been a lot of community projects, but also projects in other areas. Last year, said Cook, “one of the service projects we did is some clean-up from Hurricane Katrina. You’d be shocked at how devastated they still are in the community. We demolished a several homes in that area and were able to clean up a lot of stuff, but it was also a benefit to our students. When you serve someone else, don’t you become the beneficiary of that? So it’s really awesome for us at Darton to take that student and give the skills they need to serve others. We’ve seen students graduate through the student leadership program and then begin to share those skills with their friends, with their family, and that’s really what we want.”
Participation in the Servant Leadership Program is in addition to core curriculum courses at Darton. Students have to maintain a 2.5 GPA to remain in the program. There is also a $20 per semester fee.
Cook also announced, “We are now able to take the Student Leadership program and parlay that into a four-year degree. We were granted by the Board of Regents recently to pursue a four-year degree in leadership.”