Servant Leadership Scholarship Program

USW encourages servant leadership through scholarship program

by Gary Dill, Ph.D.*

Learning occurs in many places and with strategies other than in the setting of the formal classroom. University of the Southwest encourages students to learn about leadership by putting into practice the principles of servant leadership. The Servant Leadership Scholarship program was implemented in the Fall of 2010 and is the newest avenue through which our students may understand in meaningful ways the power of servant leadership.

Management expert Robert Greenleaf expanded on what is essentially a simple biblical tenet: "Whoever would be first among you must be servant of all." (Mark 10:42-44). In his book, The Servant as Leader, leadership "begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions...The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?"

Through a variety of projects completed over the course of the Fall and Spring semesters, our undergraduate students encountered the Hobbs community in ways they did not anticipate. Criteria for receiving the scholarship included submitting a summary reflection paper on how their participation in service benefitted both the person or organization being served and the student involved in the serving.

We are an academic community with an involved base of student-athletes. Many of this first-year's servant leadership projects were coordinated through our athletic programs and encompassed participation from nearly all athletic groups. Projects ranged from mentoring youth, keeping our campus and roadways clean, and assisting with the distribution of basic necessities such as food and clothing.

One of our men's basketball players expressed his experience with the Hobbs Boys and Girls Club in a food distribution project this way: "It really touched me to see how happy these people were knowing they have something to feed their kids or even themselves because at the end of the day everybody has to eat. Any chance I get to help out people less fortunate than me I will take full advantage of it." Even more profound is the fact that this young man's own family has encountered hardship with both of his parents currently experiencing health crises. As a child, his family "did not always have money to feed my brother and me."

Some projects required our students' willingness to just "be" with others doing what they like to do most. Our men's and women's tennis team hosted a "Midnight Madness" for members of the Hobbs High School Tennis team. The team coached younger players on improving their tennis techniques and overall game. "Although improving one's tennis game is a nice benefit to attending Midnight Madness, I think the most important part was getting to know these younger kids" wrote one women's tennis team member ... "We had befriended these younger athletes, and it enabled them to see us as positive role models. I believe that playing with the college team allowed them to get a glimpse of what their future could be if they stay on the right track."

While a majority of the projects contributed to the local community, some extended servant leadership to the world. The men's soccer team sponsored a clothes drive and contributed to the Hobbs' Salvation Army and Lubbock's, (Texas) Goodwill Industries. In the US Soccer Foundation's "Passback Project," the soccer team donated equipment and uniforms to people in Kilgore, Kenya. "Helping out doesn't only make me feel good about myself but it makes a good impression towards the way other people see me," wrote a soccer player. "It made me feel proud, grateful, and valuable and completely changed me as a man and as person."

It is USW's intention that over the course of the next several years our Servant Leadership Scholarship program will continue to make transformations as expressed by this student-athlete.

*Gary Dill is former president for University of the Southwest.