Foreword: History

by Susan Fritz

The course ALEC 102: Interpersonal Skills in Leadership, for which this text was originally written, originated at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) in the 1960s. It was grounded in the research of several educational psychologists, including Drs. William Hall and Donald Clifton. The initial intention of the course was to help students become more successful in life as citizens, employees, and leaders by emphasizing ‘positive psychology.’ (Positive psychology, loosely defined, focuses on helping people identify and emphasize their natural strengths.)

Eventually, under the guidance of UNL faculty member Dr. Galen Dodge, UNL faculty member and Director of NHRI Leadership Mentoring (formerly known as the Nebraska Human Resources Institute) which Drs. Hall and Clifton co-founded, the emphasis shifted slightly to helping students first understand themselves and their interpersonal skills and then pairing them for the semester with a client in an area non-profit agency. The premise was that students’ in-class learning would be enhanced by investing in clients throughout the semester, like a laboratory or clinical experience. And indeed, this was the case for many students. In fact, in the time I taught the course, I had students who continued to invest in their clients long after their semester experience ended!

Several generations of students in undergraduate majors across the UNL campus have completed this course and have therefore grown interpersonally as citizens, employees, and leaders. Additionally, many non-profit agencies and thousands of their clients also have benefited from the community “service-learning” component of ALEC 102. Throughout the years, research projects confirmed that the course, coupled with service-learning projects, resulted in positive interpersonal skill development for students.

The Impact

Based on students’ interests and employer and advisory committee feedback, ALEC 102 became the introductory course for a series of leadership courses that today comprise undergraduate leadership minors and a program option. Over time, a Master of Science in Leadership Education, and a PhD in Human Sciences with a specialization in Leadership Studies were also developed. To accomplish this growth, the academic home of ALEC 102, the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication, hired leadership faculty and today is known nationally for its expertise in leadership teaching, research, and service.

The growth of the leadership component was so great that the department changed its name from the Department of Agricultural Education to the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication. This change caused a ripple effect across the country, with many peer departments revising their names and increasing their leadership offerings, resulting in a broad national network of leadership faculty.

I had the privilege of serving as lead editor and contributing author for the original ALEC 102 text. Because the course was adopted by departments across the country, some parts of the text were written by authors in peer departments. Our intent was to develop a “consumable” text that would help students explore and enhance their interpersonal skills, practice, and reflect upon their skills through the service-learning project, and emerge poised to become servant leaders.


Rightfully, the focus of the course has shifted to keep step with current leadership scholarship; therefore, today you will find that ALEC 102 is grounded in the social change theory of leadership. Broadly writ, this means that you can expect that in ALEC 102 and by means of this text, you will learn about yourself, your engagement with others, leadership, and service-learning. More specifically, throughout the semester, the importance of understanding oneself as a leader opens the opportunity for exploring the collaborative leadership process and culminates in identifying students’ roles in leadership and civic engagement.

While some of the underlying scholarship has shifted, several components of ALEC 102 have remained the same. For example, those who teach ALEC 102 have deep experience and expertise in leadership and are passionate about teaching. Their teaching of the course, and the intent of this book, will be more about establishing dialogue with and among students in a trusting environment and less about lecturing. They will seek to engage you in a wide variety of teaching methods and strategies, and, at times, you will feel challenged in ways like never before. And, importantly, the service-learning project remains a key component of the course.

When I taught ALEC 102, students used to ask, “How can I be successful in this course?” I submit that the answer remains the same. Students who get the most out of ALEC 102 come to class having read the assigned text, are focused and engaged in large and small group discussions, respect other opinions, use writing assignments as opportunities for reflection and self-analysis, and capitalize on the service-learning project as a means of honing their interpersonal and leadership skills while investing in another.

I wish you much success and growth this semester!

Susan Fritz, PhD
Executive Vice President and Provost, Emerita
University of Nebraska System





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Developing Human Potential Copyright © 2023 by Gina S. Matkin, Jason Headrick, Hannah M. Sunderman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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