Missouri State University
Leadership Development Blog

LeaderBear Spotlight: Caitlin Polley

Hall Council President, Resident Assistant, and Assistant Hall Director are all positions you might have seen on Caitlin’s name tag around campus. Caitlin Polley is set to graduate in 2016 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education. She completed our Centennial Leaders program and has held several leadership positions in Gamma Alpha Lambda.

Caitlin says the connections she made with people were huge for her as a participant in our programs. Further, she learned a lot about herself as a leader which made a big impact.

“I still talk to and hang out with the friends that I made through the Centennial Leaders program. I also think the activities that we did within the program allowed me to find out who I was as a leader and has helped me in the positions that I have had since then.”

As a self-proclaimed “super senior”, Polley had a little advice for younger students about making the most of their time at Missouri State:

“If I were to give younger students advice I would tell them to embrace the Public Affairs Mission. Every place you look at on campus can represent the Public Affairs Mission, whether it be Cultural Competence, Ethical Leadership, or Community Engagement. All of these pillars allow you to get involved and find your place at Missouri State, and that is what the college experience is all about!”


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LeaderBear Spotlight: Jordan Fisher

This week we’re featuring a special Alumni Bear! Jordan graduated from Missouri State in 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in History. While she was at Missouri State she honed her leadership skills in our Emerging Leaders and Distinction in Public Affairs programs. Somehow, she also made time on campus to be a Residential Programming Assistant and Peer Leader. Phi Sigma Pi members have known her as an Alumni Advisor but she was also Social Chair and Historian during her undergraduate career.

Jordan just couldn’t get enough of our great university, though. She stuck around to serve as the Assistant Hall Director of Scholars House and the Advisor for Scholars Hall Council. She says being a part of our programs taught her to focus on her strengths instead of her weaknesses as a leader.

“…taught me to focus on what I am good at rather than what I’m not good at, while also teaching me how to use my strengths to benefit others. Furthermore, it taught me how to appreciate other’s strengths and how to use their strengths to help build a successful team.”

Naturally, a campus leader like Jordan has some advice. Especially considering her post-graduate roles as an advisor and mentor to many students!

“I would encourage students to reflect on their experiences in the classroom and in their extra-curricular activities. You are probably getting a lot of experience that can help you in the future; sometimes it just takes a little reflection to realize how those experiences can benefit you and the future you are working towards.”



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LeaderBear Spotlight: Francis Ahrens

“My biggest advice for students is to take chances and risks in college when it comes to getting involved or being a student leader. I have definitely failed in getting some positions on campus but I have also succeeded and fallen in love with other organizations. You will never be able to “Follow Your Passion” on campus if you haven’t found it. So find your passion and then find your place on campus.” -Francis Ahrens

Wise words from a senior who will be graduating in the fall. Francis is a Public Relations major who has completed all of our leadership programs. He has also served as a facilitator for Emerging and Centennial Leaders. While he spends a good deal of time with the Leadership Development folks on campus, Francis certainly hasn’t limited himself to one area. A member of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, he has served on his chapters’ executive board and will be biking across the country this summer to benefit people with disabilities! In addition to that heartwarming work, Ahrens has been a Resident Assistant and is currently a University Ambassador for which he just finished a term as Recruitment Co-Chair. Francis was also on Homecoming Court last year which is an enormous honor that very few students receive. He got his start at Missouri State in Leadership Development programs, so we wondered what our programs have done for him.

“The biggest impact that the programs have had on me is the chance to meet so many student leaders on campus. I have gotten to see how other people work in different situations and what their leadership styles are.”


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LeaderBear Spotlight: Reina Hill

This week we are featuring Reina Hill, a member of Alpha Chi Omega and leader on our campus. Reina is a Public Relations major set to graduate next fall whose strengths include: Woo, Positivity, Communication, Strategic, and Adaptability. Hill learned about and developed this skills in our 2012 session of the Commerce Bank Emerging Leaders program! Additionally, Reina is a member of Entertainment Management Association where she works to better herself professionally. As a SOAR Leader Reina has worked as the Family Panel Coordinator. Of course, she knows how to get ahead at Missouri State but also how to stay out of trouble; she’s served on the Campus Judiciary Board. Public Relations majors spend a whole lot of time in Craig Hall and Reina spends a little bit more than the average PR student as she works for the Dean of the College of Arts and Letters. We took a little time to ask Reina what our programs have done for her:

“The Commerce Bank Emerging Leaders program impacted me most by expanding the knowledge of myself and helping me grow as a leader, this knowledge is something that I have taken with me my past four years in the university, not only within the organizations I am involved in but with school work as well. I think the training I received was invaluable and helped me learn so much about myself and others. Being a part of the program remains one of my favorite parts of my college career, and I always encourage any freshman or sophomores to apply and get involved.”

The current sessions of Emerging Leaders and Distinction in Public Affairs are already up and running but you could have an experience just like Reina! Keep an eye out for the LeaderShape application – a new program Missouri State is bringing this summer. If you want to follow in her shoes, you could also take a little advice from this senior:

“I would tell younger students to take a leap of faith and go out and meet new people through university organizations and clubs around campus. The people you meet and relationships you develop cannot be traded for the world and throughout the process you will learn a tremendous amount and grow as a person. I would tell them not to be afraid to experience something new because it might end up being one of the best decisions of your life.”



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LeaderBear Spotlight: Emily Cassimatis

This week’s LeaderBear has quite a few Missouri State experiences under her belt. Emily Cassimatis, an Interior Design major set to graduate in 2016, has completed our Commerce Bank Emerging Leaders and Distinction in Public Affairs programs. When we asked her to tell us a little about what those experiences meant to her, she said:

“The most impactful thing I have experienced throughout the leadership programs I have been a part of has to be the relationships I have made with students across campus! It was so refreshing to get the chance to work with people that had different ideas and views than what I had.”

Emily is a member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority on our campus and has served as their Historian. In this role she helped lead her chapter to another great year full of success and sisterhood. In addition to her work with ADPi, she serves as a University Ambassador. In this role, Emily may be spotted giving tours to potential new students and their families or you may catch her on a student panel in the Plaster Student Union. A dedication to service is certainly important to Cassimatis which is evident through her work with Fall and Spring Break emersion trips for she and her peers.

This past summer, Emily was chosen as one of 5 students – along with Courtney Pfluke, Blake Shepheard, Caleb Hearon, and Kelsea Fink – too attend the LeaderShape Institute. This is a weeklong leadership institute where students from across the country come together and grow together as leaders and change agents. Emily is now working with the other students who attended this conference to plan a LeaderShape Institute for Missouri State students this summer. Keep your eyes peeled for that awesome opportunity!

Outside of leadership positions and planning wonderful service trips, Emily has achieved some personal goals as well. She ran a marathon last fall and the gentlemen of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity liked her so much, they made Emily their Dream Girl. Naturally, we had to ask Cassimatis to leave us with a little advice for younger students, and she didn’t disappoint.

“My advice is: Go beyond your comfort zone! Try everything that sounds interesting to you regardless of how different it may be from what you have done in the past. Even if you don’t like it in the end, you won’t have the regret of not trying it at all.”



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LeaderBear Spotlight: Tyler Mathenia

This week’s #LeaderBear is a Junior here at Missouri State. Tyler has chosen Biology as his major and will pursue a career in Optometry upon completion of his undergraduate work. Of course, like all of our LeaderBears, Tyler has been through some of our leadership development programs. Specifically, he completed Distinction in Public Affairs and Emerging Leaders. In addition to completing two of our three programs, he served as a Centennial Leaders Facilitator this past fall and helped our freshmen scholars develop as leaders as well. This future optometrist has also been a Peer Leader, volunteers in the Oncology Department at Cox South, and is actively involved in his fraternity. As former Corresponding Secretary for Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI), Tyler was able to contribute to his chapter in a big way. After finishing that position he was elected Recruitment Chairman by his chapter and is currently serving in that role.


“Being involved in programs such as emerging leaders and centennial leaders, I have learned useful skills that I now use to impact what I do in my everyday life”, says Mathenia of our programs. Tyler also mentions that Emerging Leaders has played large for him as a leader in his personal life and on our campus. He thanks the program for many skills it helped him develop. When it comes to leadership, however, Tyler does not just focus on his own development. He says that as a Centennial Leaders Facilitator he was able to help students discover their own leadership style and seeing them grow in that way was definitely a memorable experience. A leader like this has some sound advice for younger students:

“Take time to find things that you’re passionate about. Missouri State is a huge campus with hundreds of organizations to get involved in, find something you love and are passionate about and devote your time to it. Keep an open mind and be nice to people. The more involved that you are on campus, the more incredible people you will continue to meet. Stay humble, work hard and stay focused.”

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The Leadership Development Team Bids Farewell to One of Our Own

MarissaAt the conclusion of the Fall 2014 semester the Office of Student Engagement (OSE) and Leadership Development Team said goodbye to an integral part of both areas, Dr. Marissa LeClaire Weaver. It is only fitting that we honor Dr. Weaver as this week’s LeaderBear. Marissa had been a part of the OSE at Missouri State for nearly 15 years when she made the decision to embark on a new journey in her life and pursue a career at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks as the Executive Vice President.  As sad as it is that we must say farewell, we must express our upmost appreciation for her, as the legacy she leaves at Missouri State will not soon be forgotten. When asked about her experience she said, “working at MSU over the last 14 ½ years has been such an amazing journey. I always felt like the luckiest person to work with students who wanted to learn more about being a great leader.”

Marissa began her career pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication from Southeast Missouri State University.  Upon graduation she went on to complete the Master of Science in Education for Counseling and Student Development program at Eastern Illinois University.  After receiving her Master’s degree, it was on to her first full-time job, which happened to be at Missouri State University as the Assistant Director of Student Engagement for Greek Life.  At this time there were 26 fraternities and sororities which Marissa advised.  She stayed in this position for five years until a very unique opportunity arose.

In 2005 Marissa had the opportunity to create her dream job at the university, the Associate Director of Student Engagement. With this job she was able to create her own position and bring to the university her love of leadership. The leadership development area was born and with it came the creation and implementation of the three leadership programs that we still use today.  Marissa created from the ground up the Commerce Bank Emerging Leaders program (2003), the Centennial Leaders Scholarship program (2005), and the Distinction in Public Affairs program (2010).  For anyone who has been through our programs you know this involves creating the curriculum and organization of the programs as well as developing all of the skill building activities that are implemented throughout the sessions. Through the years each of these programs grew to great success and have become very sought after. This year over 175 students applied for the Emerging Leaders program alone. None of this would have been possible without Marissa’s hard work and dedication.

Her dedication to leadership does not stop there. She does everything from serving as the president of the Parent & Teacher Organization at her daughter’s school to being a victim advocate at the Victim Center. Here are some of the other accomplishments and positions Marissa has had during her 15 years at Missouri State:

  • Member of the Leadership Springfield Board of Directors (8 years)
  • Received the Springfield Business Journal 40 Under 40 Award (2010)
  • NASPA Rising Star Award recipient for Missouri
  • MSU Master in Student Affairs Outstanding Practicum Supervisor (2013)
  • Presenter and Facilitator at multiple national conferences including ALP, AFLV, UIFI, St. Louis Gateway Leadership Conference, and more
  • Member and chair of numerous university advancement committees
  • Director of Leadership at People Centric Consulting
  • High and low ropes course facilitator at Leadership Ranch
  • Member and Advisor Trainer for Delta Delta Delta Fraternity

In 2012 Marissa completed her Doctorate of Education degree in educational leadership from the University of Missouri and became Dr. Marissa Weaver. During her time at the university Dr. Weaver was one of the most inspiring and influential staff members there.  She would always push students to be the best they could be whether she was serving as their supervisor, advising them, or teaching them.  Students loved the opportunity to work with her because she went above and beyond her expected role.  Students would walk away with numerous skills they would use in the future, a great networking connection, and a feeling of being a more well-rounded individual.

When asked what the enjoyed most and will take with her from her time working at the university she said:

“One of the best parts of my job was connecting with students when they were just a freshman and watching them evolve over the years. Not only seeing them step into various leadership roles, but staying in touch after they graduated has been really fun.  I love helping people become more successful. This was a great fit in my position at MSU, but it is also a great fit for me at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks. We help children realize their potential and build their futures. We also help the mentors grow and make our community better.”

Marissa’s most prominent strength was definitely the maximizer strength. It was a running joke that anything you collaborated on with Marissa or ask for her advice on would get instantly “maximized.” But this pushed people to do their best possible work and is one of the main reasons everyone enjoyed working with her.  Her other top five strengths include; arranger, individualization, significance, & command. People that know Marissa at all will tell you how big of an advocate she was of strengths and how much she used them in everything she did.

Here are two last pieces of advice Marissa wanted to share with students:

“Know how to market yourself-The students who get selected for positions, awards, etc. are not necessarily better than the ones who don’t. The key is to be able to explain your strengths and how they connect to what it is that you are applying for at the time. It sounds simple, but speaking from experience, very few people do this. Don’t say you are organized, talk about a time that you organized a project similar to what they are looking for.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions-Seriously. Faculties, staff, leaders, whoever, love to engage with others that are interested in what they are interested in. For instance, you may see a job that you would like to possibly have one day. Ask the person if you could sit down with them sometime and learn about their position and journey. You will not only learn a lot but make an invaluable connection in that area.”

Although Marissa will be greatly missed in the Office of Student Engagement at Missouri State, she is not gone for good.  She will still be teaching a leadership class at the university and will surely stay involved behind the scenes.  Her former colleagues are very excited and happy for this new journey Marissa is embarking on.  We are thankful for everything she did for our office, Missouri State, and each one of us individually.  She inspired each one of us with her passion, and that is what will be missed the most.  So farewell Dr. Marissa LeClaire Weaver and good luck on everything you do!

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LeaderBear Spotlight: Courtney Baker

courtney bakerMeet Courtney Baker, the LeaderBear who we like to refer to as the “Queen” of walking backwards. So what exactly does this mean? We’ll she is the current president of the University Ambassadors organization. That’s right, the tour guides who walk around campus backwards giving tours to incoming and prospective students.  Courtney found her passion with this organization nearly 4 years ago when she joined as a freshman! This is her third term on the executive board as well having served as the Social Chair and Vice President of Regular Tours as well.  If you have ever met Courtney she also shows excitement and a great personality that she passes along to her tours and her fellow University Ambassadors.

Being a UA isn’t all Courtney likes to spend her time doing though.  She graduated the Commerce Bank Emerging Leaders program  in 2013. She is also a very active member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority where she has served as the Banners Chair, Social Chair, Recognitions Chair, and Assistant Greek Week/ Homecoming Chair. She is always looking for ways to show off her school spirit and give back to the school. Her intentions are to graduate in 2015 with a degree in Early Childhood Education and Family Studies.

To help her out, Courtney relies on her top strengths of Achiever, Communication, Developer, Positivity, and WOO.

When asked what about our programs impacted her the most she replied,

“I was tremendously impacted through my participation in the Emerging Leaders Program. Learning my strengths as a leader allowed me to focus on those aspects and utilize them to the best of my ability. Rather than trying to change myself to be a different kind of leader, I have been able to take great strides as a person, by emphasizing the characteristics that come naturally to me.”

Her advice to younger students:

“My advice to younger students would be to get out of your comfort zone! Some of my favorite interests have come from trying something I never thought I would like or would be good at. College is a time to test your boundaries and truly find out who you are- take advantage of the opportunities presented to you!”

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LeaderBear Spotlight: Zane Clark

Zane ClarkOur featured LeaderBear this week is Zane Clark, and he has a knack for being a leader. He was recently elected as the president of the Interfraternity Council for the 2015 calendar year.  Interfraternity council is the governing body of the 17 (soon to be 18) fraternities that are a part of Missouri State’s Fraternity and Sorority Life.  Zane will be the head of the 11 man council that works to monitor and improve the fraternity community.

Before taking on this role Zane was the president of his own fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi. Under his presidency his chapter was named Missouri State University’s Fraternity of the Year and was recognized by Pi Kappa Phi national headquarters for outstanding governance. He has also been involved in other areas of campus besides Fraternity and Sorority Life. Zane is a current member of SGA serving on the Wyrick Comission, a SOAR leader returning for his second year next summer, and a current district intern for U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill.

Zane has also recently represented the university on the 2014 Homecoming Royalty Court and was named FSL Male Sophomore of the year for the 2013-2014 school year.  To help him in his many leadership roles, Zane relies on his strengths of Strategic, Achiever, Futuristic, Individualization, & Focus. Oh and did we forget to mention he graduated the Commerce Bank Emerging Leaders Program in 2014.

When asked what about our programs impacted him the most he replied,

“The Commerce Bank Emerging Leaders program allowed me to network and develop my leadership abilities alongside other great leaders at Missouri State. I learned how my strengths fit in and mesh with those who have strengths on many other ends of the spectrum of leadership. Through this program I made many lasting connections on the Missouri State campus and developed strong bonds of friendship and respect with the other participants. All this is to say that through this program I was able to discover how I may best lead and serve those I work with on a daily basis through self-realization and humility.”

His advice to younger students:

“The first step in becoming a strong & ethical leader is simply taking on a position of responsibility. If will dig deep within yourself to find the willingness to take this first step you will surpass all expectations you ever had for yourself regarding your capabilities. There is a leader within every individual because you have valuable experience and ideas to bring to any situation. The key is identifying your strengths and how you may best translate those experiences and ideas into the format best suited for your current situation.”

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LeaderBear Spotlight: Azure Marhanka


A December 2011 graduate of Missouri State, this week’s #LeaderBear has finished an accelerate nursing program in Kansas City, MO and will continue her education to receive a Doctorate of Nursing Practice. She works now as an Oncology Nurse at The Research Medical Center. Ultimately, Azure hopes to start a foundation whose main focus will be to sponsor events that will raise money to benefit cancer research. Her experience in leadership programs, such as Commerce Bank Emerging Leaders both as a participant and facilitator, has definitely helped her get to where she is now.

“The Emerging Leaders program molded me into a very confident leader by challenging me to think outside of the box and exposed me to topics that I didn’t even believe to be within the realm of leadership. The activities and discussions were highly stimulating and I learned something new every single day. I continue to utilize several of the tools and activities I learned in the program to this day. I also really love that the leadership programs facilitate interaction among a wide variety of students on campus, which allows values, ideas, and leadership styles of all kinds to be shared throughout the program. This helped me grow into a flexible leader who understands and appreciates differences among people.”

Her advice for younger students is to try as many things as possible. Whether it’s a class, experience, or another opportunity – try new things. Go outside of your comfort zone and don’t hesitate to try new things. She says that exploring things we don’t know is a positive way to live.

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