What Makes a Leader?

We know the qualities that set them apart and what helps them succeed.

By Furman University President Elizabeth Davis

Elizabeth DavisIf you look closely, one theme that runs throughout this issue of Furman magazine is leadership – the choosing of a path that is genuine and personal but, almost by definition, far from easy. It’s the choosing of that authentic path by our alumni that brings about their various and meaningful contributions.

Furman alumni are leading in all kinds of ways in diverse careers and callings, past and present. And they have something in common: They all benefitted from a Furman education that prepared them for the twists and turns of life and careers. It’s that combination of community, academic excellence, mentoring from faculty and staff, and the value that we at Furman place on civic engagement and inclusivity that fosters the leadership we see in our graduates today and in decades past.

Some of these alumni are storytellers. Marshall Frady ’63 famously revealed the political truths of his era, Lindsey Beard ’13 documented our precious plant life, and Laura Putney ’92 painted the landscapes that took shape when her creativity intersected with her own life experiences. Consider, too, Saul Antonio Rivera ’13, whose resilience and determination, combined with his capacity to care for others and his service to this country, carried him to a place of healing and creative success. And, of course, look to tech entrepreneur Shannice Singletary ’14 for a preview of what our 9-to-5 will look like in the future. (Hint: There will be coffee shops.)

These are just a few of the alumni, students, faculty and staff you will find in the pages of this magazine who embody leadership.

We know that the elements of a Furman education that allow our students to find their calling do not come together by chance. In a variety of ways, we are putting these elements in place to position our students to explore their interests, to define their strengths and to challenge the limits of what they thought possible. Today, students might gain crucial insights on a trip to the Civil Rights Trail in Alabama. Or they may develop a deep interest in botany while researching the bunched arrowhead. And for others, an internship with the Magdalene Clinic may be that precious seed of learning from which decades of healthcare excellence grows.

These experiences are powerful. But they are only part of Furman’s formula.

We also know from various studies that a foundational component of a student’s success is a sense of belonging and community. Students who feel like they belong are more likely to stay in college and to graduate, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement. A strong sense of belonging also correlates with “academic success and motivation, self-efficacy, a greater sense of self-worth and overall mental wellbeing,” according to EAB, a consulting agency that specializes in higher education strategy.

For this generation of students, belonging matters, but such a connection can feel particularly tenuous when
a student first arrives on campus. That’s in part why we are embarking on the university’s largest construction project to date. In February, we broke ground on a comprehensive renovation of South Housing that will include building a new residence hall to replace Blackwell Hall, relocating the Center for Inclusive Communities into that new hall, and updating four others in the complex devoted to first-year students.

The new and renovated halls will offer students greater opportunities to gather and build community, while creating more occasions for faculty and staff to visit South Housing. The new residential village will also connect Academic Affairs and Student Life by combining students’ in-class and out-of-class experiences.

Leadership can take many forms. We see it in the vibrant lives found in this magazine. And at Furman, we’re setting the stage.

We’re creating a place where our students can discover what excites them, what helps them to belong, and in turn, what puts them on a path toward a meaningful life.

Elizabeth Davis' signature

This spring, Furman University began its largest construction project to date.

I recently linked to the article in the online Furman magazine, ‘A Bridge to Connect Black Alumni,’ and saw this.