SDSU Launches Bachelors Degree in Leadership Studies

Building on a popular minor, interdisciplinary program is designed for students interested in cultivating leadership traits.

Monday, October 9, 2023
Lisa Gates (center), director of the new leadership studies major, posed with students currently enrolled in a leadership class.  (Photo: Arturo E. Rivas)
Lisa Gates (center), director of the new leadership studies major, posed with students currently enrolled in a leadership class. (Photo: Arturo E. Rivas)

One of San Diego State University’s most popular cross-disciplinary minors will now be offered as a major.

Students interested in developing themselves into self-aware, culturally competent, transformational leaders are now able to pursue a new degree in the College of Education: a Bachelor of Science in leadership studies. The program builds on the success of the leadership minor that has been offered by the college, in partnership with the SDSU Division of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity, for the past eight years.

“In many ways, there's never been a more important time to study leadership,” said Lisa Gates, director of the new major, as well as the leadership minor. “We really care about ethics. We care about framing leadership from a lens of inclusivity, equity and diversity. And so this is a moment for us to ask the good questions, and try to answer them as best we can, about what constitutes ethical and results-driven leadership.”

Expanding Past a Minor

Established in 2008 and re-launched in 2015 as a joint program between SDSU’s Department of Administration, Rehabilitation, and Postsecondary Education and the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity, more than 100 students per year go through the minor, which entails 15 units of interdisciplinary coursework, fieldwork and a capstone project in collaboration with an employee learning organization within Microsoft, Inc.

The major will expand on that foundation. Taking an applied approach to leadership centered around active learning, students will also engage in research-oriented courses to learn analytical approaches. An internship in a professional setting is also a requirement.

“I think this major has been a long time coming,” said Randy Timm, associate vice president for campus life and dean of students. “There is a connection between the head and the heart in this program that makes it a fulfilling experience. Students learn to form connections with other people, gain an understanding of acceptance and empathy.

“I think that students are really looking for that.”

With the understanding that no one discipline owns leadership, the new major will require courses from across campus in subjects such as psychology, communication, business administration, public administration, sociology, ethnic studies, journalism and more. The program will also leverage key community partnerships to allow students to learn from and network with high-level leaders from outside of SDSU.

“The College of Education prides itself on producing the next generation of change agents and difference makers and, for nearly a decade, the leadership minor has succeeded in empowering students from across SDSU to positively impact others,” said Y. Barry Chung, dean of the College of Education. “I'm thrilled to see this fruitful interdisciplinary venture expanded into a full-fledged major, broadening the future impact our alumni will make on all sectors of society.”

Multidisciplinary Approach

Now with university approval, students interested in declaring the leadership studies major can begin taking prerequisite and core courses immediately.

Among the major’s goals, Gates said, is to help students cultivate self-awareness, work effectively with others, hone project management and analytical skills, and develop a purpose-driven, results-oriented outlook. She added that the major is geared toward students interested in pursuing careers in a diverse array of fields, including project management, human resources, training and development, nonprofit administration, sales, higher education — even the military.

“The leadership major is a response to what employers say they want from graduates,” Gates said. “We have designed this major with those things in mind. That includes leadership-related competencies such having and articulating a compelling vision, motivating people, managing change, providing coaching and guidance, fostering collaboration and teamwork, and others.

“I think our graduates will be able to tell a pretty impactful story to  future employers about what they have accomplished during their years at San Diego State University.”

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