Program for Leadership and Character receives $30.7 million

The funds will go toward expanding programming and creating grants for other universities


Courtesy of the Program for Leadership and Character

The $30.7 million grant will cover a five-year period.

Hope Zhu, Staff Writer

Lilly Endowment, Inc., the world’s largest private philanthropic foundation, awarded Wake Forest’s Leadership and Character Program $30.7 million to expand campus initiatives and create a national grant program. 

The Program for Leadership and Character at Wake Forest offers a variety of creative initiatives, including academic courses, scholarship opportunities, guest speaker forums, discussion groups and retreats. This five-year grant will help the program extend its reach on campus and enhance existing projects. 

The grant will be co-directed by Dr. Michael Lamb, executive director of Wake Forest’s Program for Leadership and Character, and Kenneth Townsend, director of Leadership and Character in the professional schools. 

The university plans to allocate $7 million to Wake Forest’s Program for Leadership and Character to grow its reach on campus through curriculum integration, scholar programs and seminars. 

“Our core mission at Wake Forest is to help prepare students to be leaders who serve humanity and embody virtues such as humility, empathy, courage and compassion” Lamb said. “We believe that inducing those virtues can help shape the next generation of leaders.” 

Alongside these projects, the Program for Leadership and Character plans to implement a pre-orientation program to attract more student interest. 

“We don’t get many first-years coming through our doors,” said the Director for Programming for Leadership and Character, Ann Phelps. “Hopefully, the pre-orientation would be an opportunity to reach students earlier and attract a more diverse student population.”

More than $23 million will fund a highly competitive grant program that will offer other educational institutions the opportunity to create projects focused on character development. These projects include program planning and development, character education initiatives, teacher-scholar research and professional development in character education.

“Our mission is to catalyze a larger public conversation that puts the character at the center of leadership,” Phelps said. “With the exciting prospect, we want to try and nudge the world for human flourishing rather than our own personal gain.”

The recent grant will build upon a $3.4 million grant awarded to Leadership and Character in 2019. The three-year grant expanded Wake Forest’s program through new staff members, courses and workshops, guest lectures and research. Additionally, the Kern Family Foundation awarded the program $8.6 million to expand its work in professional schools and pre-professional education. In a Jan. 24 press release, N. Clay Robbins, Lilly Endowment’s Chairman and CEO, shared how the grant will enhance the work on character development that the university has already achieved.

“Lilly Endowment’’s founders firmly believed that character formation is essential to the flourishing of individuals, families and the larger society,” Robbins said. “We are living in a moment of deep cultural and political polarization and increasing distrust of leaders and institutions. We are pleased to add our funding to that of the Kern Family Foundation, John Temple Foundation, Templeton Religion Trust, Templeton World Charity Foundation and other foundations and supporters to assist Wake Forest in developing further its character education capacity and strategies. We also are pleased to support its efforts to help foster a national network of colleges and universities with the aim of educating a new generation of morally and ethically grounded leaders to rebuild trust and enhance civic engagements.”

As the Program for Leadership and Character grows beyond Wake Forest’s campus, Townsend,  the program’s professional school director, expressed how Wake Forest can act as a facilitator and collaborator in promoting leadership and character development nationwide through this grant.

“We will need to be intentional about what we do,” Townsend said. “Showing that is not a one-off program, but an ongoing investment that aligns with our Pro Humanitate principle.”