Erica Vonk has been a professor in the business department since 2015, but this last summer she stepped into an additional role as the director of the Center for Leadership and Innovation. The center was born out of about three years of brainstorming how to better fill the needs of Northwestern students.
Last semester, Vonk and her assistant director, Jeremy Van Es, primarily focused on establishing the image of the center. They landed on the plus sign logo shown in all of their marketing material, formed from red and grey arrow shapes.
“The red represents Northwestern, and the grey represents potential community partnerships,” Vonk said.
The two shapes come together to form a plus sign, which represents the value that they aim to add to the community.
Vonk has also spent her days working on spreading the word about the center. She has appeared in radio ads, spoken at chamber events in Orange City and appeared at city council meetings. All of these appearances are to let more people know about the mission of the center, in hopes of bringing more people together to accomplish their goals.
The Center for Innovation and Leadership is not exclusively for NW. The center aims to connect leaders in the community with students on campus to form mutually beneficial partnerships. One recent event hosted by Vonk was an “Innovation Sandbox’’ for honors students. An Innovation Sandbox is a place for students and community members to come together to work through problems and pitch ideas. The goals of these events are to put many minds together in order to create innovative solutions to problems faced by businesses and student programs. The foundation of these events is the question “What can we do to help each other?”
A brand-new opportunity through the center is becoming available later this semester, called Accelerate Siouxland. This eight-month program will invite three NW honors students to come alongside Siouxland community leaders to identify shortcomings in the area, as well as develop and execute solutions to these shortcomings.
Though Vonk has a background primarily in business, the center is for everyone, regardless of major, grade or career interests. Vonk pioneered the development of an entrepreneurship minor a few years ago which saw substantial success across majors. Similar to the mission of the center as a whole, the entrepreneurship minor aimed to be interdisciplinary, a way for students to expand their skill set regardless of their career plans.
As seniors graduate from NW, they take an exit survey, indicating areas that they feel most and least confident in upon graduating. In recent years, many students expressed that they did not feel incredibly confident in their leadership skills.
“We saw an opportunity to teach Northwestern students how to change the world.” Vonk said.
Vonk decided to fill this gap by offering a brand new leadership studies minor, developed in partnership with professors in other departments.
Freshman Madilynn Loats is majoring in theatre and is considering picking up the new leadership studies minor.
“By picking up this minor, I am hoping to expand my opportunities in my future career, by learning how to best lead a group,” she said. “It seems really interesting to me.”
This minor officially becomes available in the fall semester of 2021, but many students have already expressed interest in adding it to their academic plan. Vonk is using her expertise to expand NW student’s marketability with the new center and minors.