Student Leaders in the Classroom: A Study of Virginia Tech Student Leaders and Their Accounts of Curricular and Co-Curricular Leadership

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Virginia Tech


The purpose of this study was to identify the leadership skills students believe they learned in co-curricular activities, to determine how those skills are used in the classroom, and to discover whether those skills enhance the academic experience for students. The results of this study provide information which can aid student affairs practitioners who are seeking ways to help students make the connection between the co-curricular and curricular leadership experiences.

This study used a combination of qualitative research techniques including document analysis and group interviews. The qualitative nature of this study was guided by the need to allow the subjects explore their own perceptions, beliefs, observations, and understanding about their behavior and learning. Thirty-one student leaders from programs and organizations sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs (DSA) at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) were interviewed over a period of one semester. Two cadres of three groups participated in four rounds each A round consisted of an e-journal, sent and responded to individually by the participants, followed by a group interview. E-journals and interviews were analyzed using a conceptually clustered matrix. This process produced a series of matrices correlating the various perspectives of the participants with either leadership practices, research questions, demographic data, or all three.

The results of the study reveal that training programs for these student leaders tended to focus on three primary leadership practices and that the student leaders exhibited these same practices in their curricular experience. Reflection both during and after the study had a profound impact on the students' perceptions of whether or not they perceived their own behavior as leadership either in or out of the classroom. Additional results showed that the physical design of a classroom could have an impact on how leadership practices occur during class. It was also shown that while all the participants in this study were in DSA sponsored programs, there was no central leadership theory or comprehensive approach to leadership development to guide Division programs.

Findings from this study provide evidence of the value of co-curricular leadership training and its impact on curricular experience. The study also adds to the body of research on student leadership, research on the impact of co-curricular activities on students, and the relationship between curricular and co-curricular learning, particularly as it relates to group assignments and the leadership of those projects.



Education, Higher, Student Leadership Development