Institute Report, October 2007
By Wendy Lovell
Beginning with the Class of 2010, all VMI cadets will be required to take PS 344, Leadership in Organizations.
Several members of the third class are completing the new course in the core curriculum this semester, and they are joined by a few firsts and seconds, as well as the commandant, heads of the ROTC department, the chaplain and the chief of staff of athletics.
“PS 344 is a valid, research-based academic course that is focused on the dynamics of character-based leadership in an organization,” said Col. Thomas N. Meriwether, professor of psychology and primary designer of the course.
“This is not a magic wand but a piece of the puzzle that not only contributes to the academic mission but also more broadly to the positive development of the young men and women we at the Institute are entrusted with for their education and development,” he added.
An interdisciplinary study of leadership, the course integrates both theory and practice, focusing on the interaction between leaders, followers and the situational context of the leadership process. Consistent with Vision 2039, the course includes self assessment, self disclosure, small group exercises and analysis of films and case studies.
Cadets will take the course in the spring of their third-class year or the subsequent fall.
“Most of what we learn on leadership is from people who don’t do it right,” said Col. Thomas H. Trumps ’79, commandant of cadets. “I think looking at leadership from a theory level is good. Cadets are exposed to a variety of leadership styles here at VMI – from coaches, ROTC leaders, their professors and in Barracks – and this schoolbook piece will allow them to compare and process what they see from different areas of Post.
“My staff deals primarily with the top 10 and the bottom 10 of the Corps, and I’m not able to touch the remaining 80 percent as much as I’d like,” he added. “This course will help wedge some of the gap.
“There’s so much good here at VMI; that’s what I’d like to see us focus on, and I think this course will help us move the Corps forward and grow.”
Cadet K. Marshall Cox ’10 has found PS 344 to be a dynamic learning experience, and he hopes to apply lessons learned to his role as a clerk in the Cadre and a member of the Rat Challenge Headquarters staff.
“This class is a prime example of theory and philosophy smacking into practicality with such force that anyone standing near is sure to be impacted,” said Cox. “Now when I am faced with a challenging situation as a leader, I feel like I know myself so much better and am able to use my strengths to my advantage while being aware of my weaknesses.”
Cadet Eric Hunter ’08, commander of Company E and president of Sigma Beta Delta, said he has learned a lot about his personal leadership style from PS 344.
“This course has brought fun back into talking and learning about leadership,” said Hunter. “It is a course that demands a lot out of you in order to learn, and I’ve found the benefit that comes from knowing my blind spots and trying to make them stronger.”
Students and staff aren’t the only ones learning from PS 344 this semester. Meriwether and fellow leadership team members Col. Herb Barber and Maj. Dave Cotting are assessing the new program as they teach in order to refine the course to lead 10 more sections in the spring.
“I’m pleased so far with the course and the direction in which we’re going,” said Meriwether. “We’ve done our best to design a course that addresses real issues, is interactive, relates to VMI’s unique and specific leadership challenges and is applicable to leadership roles at the Institute, in the military and in civilian life.”
Meriwether has taught psychology at VMI for 11 years, including courses focusing on leadership. Barber and Cotting joined the faculty this summer thanks to funding by a Jackson-Hope grant that is supporting all three positions for the next five years.
Barber came to VMI from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, where he was director of leadership and employee development. Previously he was on the faculty of the Army War College and James Madison University.
Cotting served as deputy director of research for the Army Physical Fitness Research Institute and was a research psychologist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.