For nearly 20 years, business leaders in Columbia have been discovering that learning doesn’t have to end when they leave the classroom behind.
Each year, 30 members of the Columbia business community take part in Leadership Columbia, a class put on by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
It aims to help up-and-coming leaders of the community gain access to leadership opportunities. The participants go through a 12-week course that ends with graduation in May.
Leadership Columbia was developed by the chamber in 1987 and has produced 18 graduating classes during its tenure.
Jen Wheeler, who is in her first year as the class coordinator, said the effectiveness of the class can be seen simply by looking at its past participants.
“There is a book of all the previous members in the chamber, and it is just amazing to see how many have gone on to become very active leaders in Columbia,” Wheeler said.
House Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, was a member of the chamber’s first class 18 years ago. MU Police Sgt. Brian Weimer, and Bob Alderson, former CEO of Boone Electric Cooperative, are also Leadership Columbia graduates.
The class takes 30 participants each session on an application-only basis.
Wheeler says the selection committee looks for people who are goal-oriented. Applicants are asked to relay a past personal or professional goal and what specific steps were taken to achieve the goal.
The coordinators of the class have a goal of their own. They hope that after graduation, participants will not only have developed leadership skills but also will have begun to see themselves as leaders.
Another goal is that the graduates make strong connections through the group activities that will give them a way to remain involved in the community.
Each week the class has a different theme about an aspect of Columbia’s daily functions. This session, seminars include a look at social services with a tour of the food bank, health care at Columbia Regional Hospital and issues at the Columbia Public Library.
Wheeler says there is a large interest in the class, and every year more apply than can be accepted.
“People take the class for many reasons: to meet community leaders and make connections, or because they have just moved here and want a way to get involved,” she said.
Sandy Morrow, an adult computer coordinator at The Career Center, found out about the class through the chamber’s newsletter. She knows others who have been through the program and believes that it is a valuable use of her spare time.
“My kids are getting older, and I just have more time to get involved. I think this is a good way to make connections and do more in the community,” she said.
The last class on Feb. 24 addressed state government. To acquaint them with the system, the group took a Capitol tour and heard from many of Missouri’s elected officials, including Gov. Bob Holden, Attorney General Jay Nixon and Secretary of State Matt Blunt.
Joe Miller, vice president of Boone National Savings & Loan, is a member of the leadership class of 2004. He has lived in southern Boone County since 1984 and is currently in his third term as a school board member. Boone National nominates an employee every year for Leadership Columbia, and this year Miller was selected. He is committed to making the most out of his experience.
“I will have been able to serve with these people in the class and hopefully because of the class, I will get to serve with them again,” he said. “I want to get a knowledge of other individuals in the community.”
Applications for the next Leadership Columbia class will be available in September.