Leadership and Character at Wake Forest

In an effort to understand how leadership and character are cultivated, the Program for Leadership and Character conducts rigorous research that assesses all aspects of our  programming, including courses, discussion groups, workshops, and spring break opportunities. This research allows us to contribute to the scholarly literature examining  how leadership and character are developed  among college and professional students and helps us equip other institutions to educate leaders of character in their own contexts.

Our research questions include:

  1. What strategies best cultivate leadership and character in undergraduate and professional students?
  2. Are particular strategies linked to cultivating specific virtues in these contexts?
  3. Are particular pedagogical strategies linked to cultivating specific virtues in course-based contexts?
  4. Are courses and programs explicitly designed to promote leadership and character more effective at preparing students to lead with character when compared to courses and programs without this explicit goal?
  5. Are particular strategies better suited to cultivate leadership and character in undergraduate students when compared to professional students?
  6. What are the differences in leadership and character development when comparing the contexts of coursework with co-curricular activities?

We explore these questions through direct and indirect assessment of leadership and character attributes, which include empirically-validated measures, course assignments, behavioral indices, and measurement of strategies utilized to develop leadership and character.

Research and Assessment Leadership Team:

Leadership and Character Lab

The Leadership and Character Lab advances scientific insight into the conditions that promote character and leadership development among young adults, translating these insights into pedagogical and practical recommendations that support human flourishing on university campuses. The L&C Lab engages and educates undergraduate and graduate student research assistants in every aspect of this research and dissemination work.

Exemplar Interventions to Develop Character

Is it possible to develop our character by emulating role models or exemplars? Can narratives of moral exemplars play a unique role in shaping specific character virtues? Can academic institutions employ exemplar interventions to promote moral development among their students? These questions animate our network project, “Exemplar Interventions to Develop Character.”

We believe that a significant gap exists between what we know generally about the theoretical and pedagogical value of exemplars and what we know specifically and practically about how they can promote character virtues. Integrating insights from philosophy, psychology, theology, literature, and education, the project aims to provide a strong foundation for exemplar interventions by examining three questions:

  1. Which psychological and pedagogical mechanisms influence the impact of exemplars?
  2. Which types of exemplars are most effective for developing specific character virtues?
  3. How can scholarly research on exemplars be translated into effective exemplar interventions?

This project aims to provide concrete answers to these questions through a network of multi-site studies that seek insights on how exemplar interventions work for which virtues under what conditions. These studies will do the following:

We would like to offer a special thanks to the John Templeton Foundation for supporting this research. This project’s core goal of promoting character virtues through exemplars aligns squarely with Sir John Templeton’s concern for fostering character virtues through engagement with moral exemplars. The opinions expressed in this project are those of the researchers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation. Learn more about the John Templeton Foundation here.

For more details about each project, click here.

For a list of research collaborators and board of advisors, click here.

Character in Engineering

In partnership with the Program for Leadership and Character, the Department of Engineering is integrating character modules into their curriculum with the support of more than $700,000 from the Kern Family Foundation and the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network. The most recent two-year grant for $557,140 funded two postdoctoral fellows, Drs. Joe Wiinikka-Lydon and Adetoun Yeaman, to work with faculty to design and teach modules on character in essential engineering courses. The grant also supports the work of Drs. Olga Pierrakos, Michael Lamb, and Michael Gross to investigate the effectiveness of character education in engineering and produce resources that can aid other engineering faculty at Wake Forest and beyond. This interdisciplinary work reflects an ongoing partnership between the Department of Engineering and Program for Leadership and Character to advance character within engineering education.

For more information about this exciting project and partnership, click here.