For Two Graduates, a Leadership Opportunity of a Lifetime

GSPM alumnae among 60 in first cohort of Presidential Leadership Scholars.

Presidential Leadership Scholars
The first cohort of the Presidential Leadership Scholars completed an orientation at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate last week. (Grant Miller for Presidential Leadership Scholars)
March 04, 2015

By James Irwin

A group of diverse professionals, including a pair of George Washington University graduates, participated in the first sessions of the Presidential Leadership Scholars program last week, kicking off an initiative that combines resources from four presidential libraries and features dozens of leaders in the private, public, non-profit, military and academic sectors.

Graduate School of Political Management alumnae Janelle Carter Brevard, M.A. ’01, and Traci Scott, M.A. ’96, were among the 60 scholars invited to participate in the program’s inaugural class. The collaboration between the George W. Bush Presidential Center, the Clinton Foundation, the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation entails approximately 100 hours of informative sessions over six months, covering approaches to leadership theory and using examples from recent presidents.

The program, first announced at a September event featuring Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, began with a four-day orientation last week at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. Ms. Brevard and Ms. Scott, who both first learned about the program in the fall after being contacted by GSPM, are among a cohort selected from more than 900 applicants.

“The group of people in the class is phenomenal,” said Ms. Scott, regional liaison officer and political advisor to the commanding general at Fort Riley in Kansas. “There are some people in there who have done some pretty incredible things in their careers. And the level of the people they are bringing in to help teach some of the classes is phenomenal.”

In addition to Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, an advisory committee of business executives, university presidents, political operatives and military officers will work with the cohort. Guest speakers, among them former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, will facilitate sessions throughout the program.

“These are leaders who move people to do really big and great things,” said Ms. Brevard, president of the Herndon, Va.,-based J Carter Group and former senior adviser and speechwriter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “The team of advisers we have—Donna Shalala, Alexis Herman, General [Stanley] McChrystal—have done so much in leadership. I can’t imagine walking away from that and not growing.”

In addition to the orientation week at Mount Vernon, Presidential Leadership Scholars will meet monthly at the presidential centers of Lyndon Johnson, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. (GW Today file photo)


The cohort will meet monthly at the presidential centers—located at universities in Texas and Arkansas—from March to July. It’s a rare collaboration in terms of size, scope and bipartisan cooperation, said GSPM Director Mark Kennedy.

“I don’t think we have seen a program like this,” he said, explaining how the joint humanitarian efforts of Presidents Clinton and George H.W. Bush have been refreshing signs of teamwork in a highly divisive time. “To get four universities and four centers and four presidents to mesh together for common cause is rare. This didn’t come out of the air. It’s senior leaders over time developing a working relationship and trust among each other.

“They found they can do more together than they could separately.”

For Mr. Kennedy, a former U.S. congressman from Minnesota, the partnership represents the type of collaboration he and his faculty try to advance at GSPM, where applied politics, not policy issues, rules the day. The presidential libraries, he said, hold a wealth of research and knowledge “of how presidents dealt with thorny, difficult decisions.”

That’s one of the features that drew Ms. Brevard to the program. It’s an innovative, novel idea, she said. It also will provide the two GSPM graduates with an opportunity to see the presidencies from different perspectives. Ms. Brevard, having worked in the George W. Bush administration, will be making her first trip to the Bush library. As a journalist in the 1990s, Ms. Scott covered the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign for CBS News. Upon hearing she had been accepted into the program, a general she used to work for sent her a congratulatory note.

“Make it count,” it read.

Ms. Scott intends to do just that.

“I think that sums up everything I want to do as part of this experience,” she said.

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