Article by Nick Knopik, contributing writer and former assistant director of leadership and service
Pick a number one through ten, and there’s bound to be a book with that number and “leadership” in the title.
The First Two Rules of Leadership. The Four Factors of Effective Leadership. The Eight Dimensions of Leadership.
Search “leadership books” on Amazon, and more than 50,000 results appear.
But Doane doesn’t offer a one-size-fits-all, textbook approach to leadership. Instead, leadership development is woven into the university’s DNA in programs like the Hansen Leadership Program (HLP). Alumni Travis Handler ’22 and Mandi Laib ’23 shared how being part of HLP impacted their Doane education and their next steps after graduation.
HLP is named after Zenon C.R. Hansen and was founded in 1994. The program provides many opportunities for Doane students to develop their leadership skills, including:
- Raising money for cancer research through Relay for Life
- Helping incoming students transition to campus as Orientation Leaders
- Learning and living with other Doane student leaders in the Directions Cohort
Each year, 40 incoming Doane students are selected for a spot in the Directions cohort. Students live together in suites and meet weekly with a leadership mentor during their first year on campus. Across all four years of the program, Directions students also take four leadership classes and complete 80 community service hours.
Both Handler and Laib participated in Directions during their time at Doane.
HLP Alumni Spotlight: Travis Handler ’22
Travis Handler (he/him) came to Doane as a student-athlete from New Mexico. As an eighteen-year-old focused primarily on baseball, he applied for Directions because of the scholarship and the opportunity to live in a suite-style room with seven other students.
“We didn’t have to share a bathroom with all of the other people in the hall, you know?” Handler joked.
Although Handler initially thought he would do the bare minimum to keep his Directions scholarship while focusing on baseball, his suitemates strongly influenced his Directions experience.
“I was so blessed to have seven roommates who were just incredibly driven. Being surrounded by those guys really pushed me to be better,” he said.
Handler’s Directions suitemates remain some of his closest friends.
Not long into Handler’s time at Doane, his baseball career ended. He had just been elected the Chair of the Doane Leadership Educators (DLE), a student group through HLP that facilitates and promotes leadership dialogues amongst students.
“I didn’t even vote for myself. Initially, I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t want to do this.’ To make matters worse, I had this guy, Quint, blowing up my phone,” Handler said, though that impression quickly changed.
Quint Geis, the Director of Career, Leadership, & Service, became an important advisor for Handler as he grew into his position as the Chair of DLE. Geis worked closely with Handler throughout the spring and summer of 2020 to re-envision the student organization's purpose.
“I developed a tolerance for Quint’s zealous advocacy for [HLP] and really came to understand that he was pushing me because he saw that there was a lot of potential for me and for what [DLE] could be,” Handler said.
When Handler returned to campus in the fall, he and the DLE students developed the On The Way Up video interview series, which promoted dialogues about leadership between Doane students and campus leaders nationwide. Handler’s team also laid the foundation for Emerging Leaders, a leadership workshop for Doane students facilitated by DLE. Both initiatives continued after Handler graduated in 2022.
“Now, looking back on it, I see all the Instagram posts and it makes my heart sing. To see it grow past me and to see them doing better than I did is just so cool,” Handler said.
Handler spoke about using his HLP experience to succeed as a second-year law student at the University of Oklahoma.
“I had a pretty good first semester, grades-wise. But I had a great second semester. I owe a lot of that to what y’all instilled in me in HLP,” he said.
Handler shared that while he’s proud of all he has accomplished in law school, he’s constantly re-evaluating where to improve. He explained that his HLP experience instilled a growth mindset and equipped him with interpersonal skills that set him up for success as a lawyer.
“Law, at its core, is a service-based practice. You’re building rapport, and the most valuable asset you can have for the client is trust,” Handler said.“Having those interpersonal skills, understanding that different people have different needs and you need to be flexible and adapt to those needs has been unbelievably valuable.”
HLP Alumni Spotlight: Mandi Laib ’23
Mandi Laib (she/they) graduated a year after Handler. Like Handler, Laib came from out-of-state to play a sport (softball) and participate in the Directions cohort. In her case, she was a first-generation student.
“I didn’t have a lot of people to even talk about what college was going to be like,” Laib said “I watched some YouTube videos where people were like, ‘Here are five tips for college,’ and tip number one was to make sure to study.”
Laib explained that she had a very vague concept about college when she arrived at Doane, but she quickly found the support she was looking for in her Directions suitemates.
“I had a great suite. [My suitemates] would notice that I was struggling or stumbling a bit more than other students, and they’d help me out,” she said.
As a Directions student, Laib took one leadership class each of her first four semesters at Doane. These classes taught her leadership theories and the four values of the Hansen Leadership Program: Empowerment, Courage, Depth and Advocacy. Before long, Laib was an established leader on campus and had the opportunity to use her leadership skills to make a difference in the lives of her fellow Doane students.
“I remember when I was a freshman, I knew nothing. [As a junior], my friends would just send people my way all the time. ‘Oh, you need help with this? Go ask Mandi,’” Laib said. “I really enjoy empowering people, so that was really cool.”
Laib is in their first semester in the Student Affairs Administration Master’s program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They work as an Academic Success Coach in the Center for Academic Success and Transition.
“I work one-on-one with students using kind of the same things we talked about in [HLP]. The encouragement and being able to build skills, it really does apply to HLP. The empowerment piece I talked about earlier, that’s pretty much my job,” they said.
Laib spoke about how HLP taught them to solve problems and look at things from a bigger picture.
“I think that was something that I knew how to do, but I didn't execute it very well before HLP,” Laib shared.
As Laib looks towards their career in student affairs, they acknowledged that no two days will be the same. They plan to lean on the adaptive leadership philosophy they developed in HLP to help students succeed far into the future.
The application for the next Directions cohort opens in November.