Presidential Treatment

Students build leadership skills through novel program

When Dr. Michael Ash and his wife Beth came to SCC in 2012, the couple had many dreams for the college: new facilities with the latest technology, campus beautification projects, and personal development opportunities for students outside of the classroom.

“We wanted to create a leadership program,” Ash says. “We saw one at another college where students were at a dinner function actively engaging with guests. They were serving as ambassadors for the college and gaining experience at the same time. We wanted that for SCC.”

With a model in mind, Dr. Ash and Beth created the President’s Leadership Academy (PLA) in 2014.

PLA is designed to help students hone their leadership skills, build self-confidence, and improve their communication skills. Students must apply and go through a selection process.

PLA members pose with Dr. Ash during a break from volunteering.

The first thing students are asked to do is write a personal mission statement.

“The motto is, ‘Don’t let life just happen to you. You define life,’” Dr. Ash says. “We ask them to reflect upon who they are, with the knowledge that it can change. It will change, as life changes for us all.”

This serves as a the students’ guide for the rest of the year.

Students spend time with business and community leaders who share their experiences and engage in discussion. They volunteer at college events and are urged to identify opportunities to represent the college in the community. A highlight for the group is a legislative dinner, where the students put their newfound leadership and communication skills to use as they mingle with elected officials.

“The goal is for them to understand that the dignitaries are regular people. It’s ok to talk to them,” Dr. Ash says. “Who knows, some of these students may one day run for office. It’s an opportunity for them to realize their potential.”

PLA member Claire Hackenmiller belongs to an impressive number of SCC clubs and organizations including Student Board, DreamCatchers, and Cheer & Dance, among others. Clearly a go-getter, she jumped at the chance to apply.

“I wanted to join PLA because it gives us so many leadership-building opportunities,” explains Hackenmiller. “I also enjoy being involved and representing the college at events on campus and in the community.”

Other members may not be quite as active but are no less excited to develop leadership skills.

“At the beginning of the year, there’s always a few shy students,” Dr. Ash smiles. “Then they quickly catch on and bloom. Beth and I enjoy watching each student grow and develop.”

The group has grown to 15 students this year, its largest number to date.

PLA members gather in the Ash’s home.

Although Dr. Ash’s catchphrase is, “It’s about the students,” his duties leave him little time to actually spend with the primary beneficiaries of his hard work.

“I love being with students. I love talking to students. I love helping students. As president, what I do is for students,” Dr. Ash pauses. “The irony is that I don’t get to engage very often. PLA is how I maintain that connection. I get as much out of this program as they do.”

While he and Beth enjoy all of the PLA activities, they look most forward to hosting students in their home.

“That’s when we get to listen to the students reflect on their experiences and witness their growth.”

Hackenmiller says the dedicated time with the Ashes is also her favorite part of PLA.

“I appreciate getting to know Dr. and Mrs. Ash and spending time with them in their home. They’re both so welcoming and supportive,” Hackenmiller reflects. “They sincerely care about each student.”

To learn more about the President’s Leadership Academy or to apply for the 2020-2021 class, contact Beth Ash at (319) 208-5242 or

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