Facilitating Student Leadership

When encouraging student leadership, there is a fine line between an overbearing vs. a hands-off mentorship approach; finding the balancing point can lead to a productive relationship and success for the student’s endeavor. In this conversation, we discussed the role of faculty guidance in enhancing student leadership capabilities. Andrea Nicki, one of FHS’s new lecturers, shared her recent experiences with the FHS Health Ethics club.

Getting Started…picking up on students’ expressed interests

The Health Ethics club  formed after the Spring 2011 offering of HSCI 319 – Health Care Ethics. A keen group of students expressed an interest in promoting a dialogue about ethical issues in a club type of format.This group was quite active for the summer; however, at the start of the fall term the club coordinator position was  transferred to  a couple of members with novice leadership experience.  Andrea N. has been coaching the new student leaders on the process of running the club and describes herself as a facilitator. The club currently comprises ~ 13 students.

Supporting student leadership development and ownership

Leadership tasks within the club involves: planning events, identifying topics, inviting speakers, and general administration. The student leaders arrange speakers and consider themselves to be an activist group. For example, they have had guest speakers from the transplant society and discussed the importance of encouraging organ donation to offset the shortage of available transplant organs. Andrea says she promotes student leadership by encouraging the students to speak and by maintaining a casual environment as students can be intimidated by instructors. Andrea models a conversational approach and assists students to facilitate discussions, a valuable skill in it own right.

To ensure continuity, Charlie G. suggested that the club should have a built-in mechanism for succession and sustainability so that leadership is easily transferable and there is continuation of the group. One approach to encourage this is to assign specific roles to individuals and then rotate those roles so that there is a sense of shared ownership as well as shared knowledge of performing specific tasks rather than having it fall on one person.

Andrea N. described many potential benefits to the club for the students in addition to the leadership opportunity. For example, this forum can enhance critical thinking skills, and knowledge of health ethics is broadly applicable in many fields. In addition, students gain a closer relationship with a faculty mentor. Ultimately, she observed that the students enjoy the club  because it provided a sense of community and shared purpose between students and  faculty.

Resources on Facilitating Student Leadership

The Health Ethics Club

The Student Health Ethics Club was started in the summer of 2011.  I (Andrea N.) serve as a faculty mentor.  Emily Rousseau is the president with Jessica Chow acting as secretary.  The aims of the club are to foster community among students in health science at SFU and enhance moral leadership;  to promote critical thinking and dialogue around complex health issues; and to liaise with health  organizations and researchers to help further ethical policy-making  and practice.  Our meetings are open to all undergraduate and graduate students at SFU and are on every other Wednesday at 3:30 in Blusson Hall room 9011. The meeting format is short documentary and/or guest speaker and discussion.