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Dr. Monic Behnken became the new director of leadership studies at Iowa State on March 1. Behnken joined ISU as a lecturer in 2009.

The college of Liberal Arts and Sciences has announced Monic Behnken, assistant professor in sociology, as the new director of the leadership studies program.

The typical process of this program tends to focus on students who view themselves as leaders, where the program would feel like a natural fit, Behnken said. As directory, Behnken said she wants to accept students from different backgrounds and identities into the program.

Behnken said she wants to broaden the definition of leadership and give students who do not see themselves as leaders the opportunity to join the program.

“I would like to do is to also capture the students who never received that message,” Behnken said.

The previous director and founder of the program was Dianne Bystrom who led the program for 22 years before passing it on to Behnken. Bystrom also served as the director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics.

Behnken said the leadership program is at a point of transition, not only in directors but also the identity of the program. She said she hopes to personalize their teaching methods in a way that will help present and future students.

In previous experiences, Behnken said she had a professor who advised her not to go to graduate school, but she went anyway. She advised students to be authentic with themselves and to never give up a desired opportunity.

“Never tell yourself no,” Behnken said. “If you want an opportunity, pursue it. And the granting agency will either accept you or they won’t. But don’t you tell yourself no.”

Behnken also said that learning to see the value in an opportunity is a tremendous leadership skill. When she was in law school, Behnken said she developed a love for learning, which was not the case when she was an undergraduate. She said there is a difference between students wanting to learn and forcing themselves to learn.

“Not everything you do will be fun, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important, that it’s not valuable, or that you can’t learn and grow from the experience,” Behnken said.

Behnken said Iowa State students could also help the leadership program grow by being honest. She said it is important for there to be clear communication between students and faculty, so that faculty can know which teaching methods are working and which ones are not.

“Part of what we as faculty need to hear from students is whether or not the teaching is resonating,” Behnken said. “Does it feel useful, does it feel relevant, does it feel true to your experience? Because, you know, we’re trying to craft what we believe is useful education for the world in which you’re living. You’re living the world in a really different position than I’m living in the world.”

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