A group of Wake Forest University Trustees and their spouses gathered over dinner on June 22, 2017, on the University campus to discuss leadership and character.

We began by sharing personal experiences of witnessing character in action, some from their professional lives, some from family or community and some from Wake Forest. Themes that emerged include:

  • Character is often portrayed in tiny decent things done everyday.
  • Community and broader purpose; overcoming obstacles to contribute; putting the good of society over personal interests; selfless community service.
  • Generosity and commitment; giving back; unwavering belief and kindness in the face of tragedy.
  • Fostering civil political discourse in a polarized society.
  • Serving as an example to our children and youth.

We then connected the opening discussion to how character can be taught and modeled to our students at Wake Forest. Our group’s spirited discussion included many observations, concerns and suggestions about student life.

  • Current students are highly focused on volunteerism, but some lack focus in their service opportunities.
  • It is late in the game to form character by the time students reach university; character cannot be taught, but we can provide opportunities for character development.
  • The teacher-scholar model creates opportunities for faculty to model character.
  • We need to teach students to listen to opposing opinions; conversely, students need to listen before forming opinions.
  • This may be the first time students have their ideas challenged.

Our group coalesced around the concept of a shared first-year experience to teach character. We discussed the “culture of the cohort” – having something in common to talk about. We offered several ideas for enhancing the first year experience:

  • Have a common First Year Seminar, with everyone taking the same class.
  • Add character to the new First Year Experience course and make the course mandatory.
  • Have a required first year book to read instead of the current multiple-book, optional program; the book could tie into the First Year Seminar.