When Leadership U (LU) was launched in 1996 by Leadership Howard County (LHC), the goal was to offer the next generation an opportunity to learn about their community and develop their leadership skills outside of the classroom. With 21 years of experience, Leadership U is continually recognized as an extraordinary leadership program for high school juniors in Howard County.

Each year, up to 50 students from public and private schools are guided through the program, which runs from late July through December, learning about leadership development, teamwork and giving back.

Summer Week: Each program year begins with an intensive summer week in early August. Similar to the adult program, students are taken on site visits and meet experts from county government, nonprofits and education, learning about how the county operates, services that are available and challenges that citizens are faced with. They also go through teambuilding activities and learn more about leadership from prominent professionals.

By the end of summer week, students take an active role in determining the issues they’d like to address, and they begin the process of creating a unique project that gives back to the community.

Fall Sessions: Throughout the fall, students work in groups to develop, implement and analyze service projects that have a direct impact on the community. Through this process, they learn valuable skills in communication, time management and general teamwork in an open environment where support is offered through volunteer mentors and other resources. As there are no grades, the learning experience is student-driven, and learning is achieved through more than just the success of the projects.

During each session, LU invites a speaker to enlighten the students about various aspects of leadership through short discussions called Leadership Lessons.

3D-HC – Dig Deep and Discover Howard County: This is an opportunity to give the students an up-close look at the important work done by nonprofits in the community such as the Howard County Food Bank, HopeWorks, Howard County Conservancy and others. Up to five nonprofits host teams of students who spend a day meeting staff and working on projects directly with clients. They also learn valuable lessons about serving on boards and committees and what it takes to make these operations run successfully.

Graduation: The program culminates in December with a creative and unique graduation ceremony. In addition to students and their families, regular attendees include school faculty and elected officials, LHC board members and many other community leaders. The students present their projects to the audience and share their experiences in a fun, entertaining setting.

Guiding the program is a team of staff and volunteers. The invaluable contributions from LU’s steering committee, mentors, summer week chaperones and community partners are critical to making this program unique and successful. Graduates of Leadership Premier and Leadership Essentials, as well as Leadership U grads, frequently offer their time and expertise in order to enhance the students’ experience.

The program is continually evaluated to ensure each class develops friendships, experiences and skills that will enrich their high school and college careers and beyond. If you work with an organization or nonprofit that wants to connect with a talented and passionate group of youth leaders, contact Leadership U director Meg Ignacio at mignacio@leadershiphc.org.