Despite Pandemic, Leadership Institute a Smashing Success

The Student Leadership Institute's philosophy is to aspire to create critical learners, innovators and adaptive problem solvers whose leadership exemplifies distinction.

Not even the coronavirus pandemic could get in the way of that this year.

The annual event, hosted on Sat., Feb. 20, 2021, is a collaboration with Peer Leader Training (PLTC), Undergraduate Student Government (USG), and Residence Services. This year's event featured a theme of “Flashes Take Care of Flashes: Building Community." Despite the virtual circumstances, it was still a success, with more than 450 students attending sessions via Zoom.

The Student Leadership Institute was established by Kent State's Leadership Center to help students gain leadership knowledge. That includes bolstering the skills needed to interact with diverse groups of people, understanding the importance of creating an inclusive environment where all are welcome, collating personal values and beliefs, and understanding how actions affect others.

Those attending this year participated in a keynote speaker session given by Ken Nwadkie Jr. (affectionately known as the “free hugs guy”), along with having the opportunity to attend two breakout sessions of their choice, both consisting of organizational and personal leadership development topics. The breakout sessions were facilitated by more than 20 Kent State staff and external individuals with expertise in leadership development.

“Our team was committed to hosting the student leadership institute for our students regardless of the virtual environment,” graduate assistant for the Kent Student Center and Involvement, Haley Corley, said. “Our fear was that students would be 'Zoom fatigued' and not willing to participate, but this turned out to be untrue, as we had an incredible turnout.”

Under normal circumstances, it may have been difficult scheduling participants to fly in and be at the event physically, but the virtual environment allowed for flexibility in that department.

“Facilitators from around the United States and internationally were able to volunteer and facilitate breakout sessions for our students,” Corley said. “We also were able to have more individuals from our regional campuses and local community attend due to the virtual nature.”

In a pandemic year, it seemed fitting that the inspiring speech given by Nwadkie Jr. centered around spreading kindness, positivity, and advocacy during uncertain times.

“Student feedback was overwhelmingly positive from this virtual event,” Corley said. “Although we could not be together in person, the student feedback demonstrates how positive of an experience it was for them to come together and better their leadership skills.”

For more on the Kent State University Leadership Center, please visit

For more about Ken Nwadkie Jr., please visit



POSTED: Wednesday, April 7, 2021 - 10:25am
UPDATED: Monday, April 19, 2021 - 9:07pm
Matt Lupica