by Marilyn Assaf, Communications Officer, University Relations, VIU

Reflecting upon my undergraduate experience at Vancouver Island University, my thoughts immediately turn to the best course ever! It was a third-year elective called Fostering Leadership Development, and it was the last course needed to complete my undergraduate degree.

I was looking forward to this course, so you can imagine my disappointment when it was cancelled due to low enrolment. Without that course, I’d have to wait an entire year to complete my university degree.

On a whim, I emailed then Dean of Continuing Studies Dennis Silvestrone to ask if I could enrol as a Directed Studies student. “Let me get back to you,” was the reply.

Two weeks later, I was delighted to receive an invitation to the first gathering of our Directed Studies class. On day one, I met several interesting classmates and our amazing teachers – retired VIU Dean Carol Mathews and retired VIU Education professor Neil Smith. For those who know them, need I say more?!

It was an honour to be in a classroom learning so much from these two wise and caring souls. I learned about leadership, but also about life, integrity and the art of successful teaching. Watching Carol and Neil as leaders in the classroom left no doubt in my mind that they are masters at what they do. They created a course that was unique, different and special.

Carol and Neil are highly skilled at engaging and motivating students. Together, they team-taught our classroom sessions and augmented our learning with online assignments, readings and discussion forums. Our classroom sessions were full of fun and laughter, hands-on team building games, brilliant and thought-provoking videos, and stimulating discussions about leadership theories and styles. Every class began with an informal ‘check in’ session where students had a chance to share something (or nothing) with the rest of the team. This small exercise built bonds in the classroom between teachers and students.

One my favourite writing assignments in this class was developing a vision and mission statement. That simple assignment challenged me to think about my life, my passion, my purpose and the type of leader and person I want to be.

For another assignment, I wrote about the traits and characteristics I admire most in a person that I consider to be a great leader. I got an A-plus on that assignment and an encouraging word from my teachers to consider sharing a copy of my essay with the person I wrote about in class.

Fostering Leadership Development was indeed the best course I’ve ever taken at VIU or anywhere else, for that matter. It was a transformational experience. Even though it was the last course required for my undergraduate degree, the inspirational nature of my teachers and their engaging classroom techniques ignited a hunger within me to learn more.