DVALI Academy for Leaders

Drake’s Donald V. Adams Leadership Institute spreads admired leader’s wisdom to generations of students

A key program for growing students into leaders during their time at Drake is the Donald V. Adams Leadership Institute (DVALI).

The institute was founded in 2001, when Ken Vegors, ED’71, made a gift to Drake to offer future students the kind of leadership opportunities that had benefitted him as a student. He enlisted support from a group of alumni who shared this dream.

The new program was named to honor now-retired Drake leader Donald V. Adams, who became Drake’s vice president of student life in 1969 and retired in 2007 after 37 years of service. Because of the inspiration Adams provided to generations of Drake students, DVALI’s founders wanted to not only name the institute after him, but to center offerings on Adams’ leadership vision and values.

“The curriculum has always come from our faculty ⎯ we have unbelievable talent here. They picked up the ethical, theoretical and service components that we wanted to bring to students,” says Adams.

Since its creation more than ten years ago, DVALI has offered students a variety of leadership programming and opportunities to meet their needs throughout the entire college experience.

In addition to Adams Academy, DVALI’s signature, ten-week program for upperclass students, Drake undergraduates can take part in fall and spring leadership conferences, sponsored by Richard Sussman, AS’51, and his late wife, Lila; the Emerging Leaders Model, a six-week leadership and mentoring program; and the Florence Myers Wallace Leadership Lunch, in which students, faculty and Board of Trustee members discuss ways to improve on the leadership experience at Drake.

DVALI also operates in partnership with Drake’s new interdisciplinary Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) concentration, which develop skills through experiential learning alongside experienced community mentors.

The Adams way

Adams Academy curriculum offers students, from sophomores to P3s, the opportunity to delve into leadership issues related to theory, effective communication, ethical decision-making and inclusivity. Additional academy sessions offer practical skills in leadership, on campus as well as in the workplace and community.

Community service is an important component of the program, which lives out Donald V. Adams’ belief in the importance of serving others.

The program is based on six of Adams’ personal values:

  • Take Responsibility
  • Be Honest and Dependable
  • Be Persistent
  • Preserve Your Options
  • Never Stop Learning
  • Love Unconditionally

The leadership training and preparation offered by Adams Academy and DVALI fit perfectly into Drake’s mission to prepare students for personal and professional accomplishment, as well as to create responsible global citizens.

“We’re always changing and always trying to respond to the times and student needs,” says Jan Wise, director of student leadership and service programs. “I get to work with some really wonderful students. They’re driven to make the world a better place.”

Not just for CEOs

DVALI doesn’t just bring leadership skills to students who aspire to climb the ladder in business. The ability to lead, inspire, influence and effect change is an essential quality for life in the 21st century, regardless of field. Students like second-year pharmacy major Nicole McSweeney are finding that the practical, real-world takeaways from DVALI are shaping their careers and lives.

“The Adams Academy truly allowed me to experience leadership,” says McSweeney, who was recognized as the 1,000th DVALI graduate in 2011. “Leadership does not mean that you have to be in a powerful position. It encompasses making a commitment to an idea or project and inspiring others to share and follow in a common vision.”

After graduation, McSweeney aspires to serve as a clinical pharmacist in the emergency care wing of a hospital, where she hopes to make a difference not just in her patients’ lives, but also in the health care field as a whole. She believes that the skills she learned through DVALI will play an extremely important role in her future career as well as in her ability to contribute as an active citizen.

“I learned a great deal about the importance of cooperation and collaboration with others, as it leads to new ideas and thoughtful innovations,” she says. “I learned what it means to be a true leader.”

Beyond blue jackets

The Donald V. Adams Leadership Institute is now in its eleventh year, with more than 130 participants in the Adams Academy. And Don Adams remains active on campus as a role model and mentor.

“We have a senior reflections capstone experience, in which the top leaders in the senior class are invited to write and present a position paper reflecting on their leadership journey,” says Adams. “It is unbelievably emotional – I wouldn’t miss it.”

Adams is also present for workshops and for the culminating event of convocation, in which graduates earn the iconic Adams Academy jacket, a tangible representation of the hard work and sense of community that permeates each year’s class.

“I get to welcome every graduate from the academy. I shake their hand, we get our picture taken, and I hand them their blue jacket,” says Adams. “It really is a wonderful life.”

Even more important than the honors and accolades, graduates of DVALI will have made all-important connections ⎯ between classroom learning and practical leadership, as well as with alumni and community leaders.

“The skills that I learned through Adams Academy will be valuable throughout my whole life,” says McSweeney.

⎯ Jill Brimeyer


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