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Building tomorrow's leaders: Dr. Kyle Gipson, Director of the Madison Engineering (MadE) Leadership Program

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By Kathryn Stephens (‘17) JMU Research & Scholarship

Dr. Kyle G. Gipson is an Assistant Professor of Engineering and serves as Director of the Madison Engineering (MadE) Leadership Program. Dr. Gipson earned his Ph.D. in Polymer and Fiber Science from Clemson University in 2011, and joined the JMU Department of Engineering soon after. As Director of the MadE Leadership Program, Dr. Gipson regularly teaches courses on Leadership Theory and Practice, with the goal of developing a community of learners that engenders respect, fosters excellence, promotes collaboration, inspires generosity, and encourages life-long learning. The MadE Leadership Program is currently in its third year of preparing students to become effective, ethical, and empathetic leaders in professional settings.

“It started off as a way to find a group of students to help the department by giving tours and talking to prospective students,” explains Dr. Gipson. “But as planning for the program moved forward, I started thinking, ‘how can we use this time and space to maximize the professional value students are able to create for themselves?’” Dr. Gipson says that most professors already do a good job of preparing their students for the process of going from undergraduate to graduate study, in part because they themselves have already experienced this transition. Students looking to go directly into the work force have a much more difficult time finding guidance. “We began to ask ourselves, ‘what are some of the things industry is looking for from our graduates?’ That question gave rise to two things: leadership skills and an understanding of the design process,” says Dr. Gipson.

JMU Engineering is non-discipline-specific, combining the best elements from a strong Liberal Arts education with strong science, technology, engineering, math, and business principles. The curriculum is design and product-based, with an emphasis both on inclusivity and excellence. This unique focus on human-centric design is in part what makes the MadE Leadership Program so important to the overall goals of JMU’s Engineering Department—to produce students who are not only prepared to handle the technical aspects of the design process, but who are also sensitive to the ethical and inter-personal demands of real-world problem solving.

When Dr. Gipson first came to JMU in 2011, he was hired as part of an initiative to bolster its new Engineering program, which had accepted its inaugural freshman class only three years earlier. Dr. Gipson says he was excited to be a part of such an innovative program, “Most of the engineering programs out there have been around for a long time—some since the early 1900s. There’s a lot of tradition-entrenched thought processes out there. It’s pretty rare to get a chance to be a part of something new.”

Prior to arriving at JMU, Dr. Gipson worked for several years with the chemical and textile company Milliken & Co., during which he attended company-sponsored leadership classes that helped inspire some aspects of the leadership program he now directs. However, growing up with a mother who taught high school civics, Dr. Gipson says that for much of his life he had no desire to become an instructor. However, he explains, “when I was working in industry, I began to realize that at the end of the day, all I was really doing was making rich people richer.” Today, he’s interested in fostering a completely different kind of wealth—helping students to understand themselves and tap into the wealth of ability they already possess. “These students are going to be able to reach such a wider audience and have such a greater impact than any one product I could make. Just being a part of that process is so much more important to me than building another widget.” 

Published: Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2018

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