California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) offers a two-year graduate program in Transformative Leadership, an online MA that Director Kathy Littles describes as “not a cookie-cutter program.” Littles explains what she means: “We ask the question: what does leadership mean? How am I embodying what a leader can and should be? We’re looking for students who are passionate about making a change.”
Because the program is online, students in the program live in different states, and in some cases, on different continents. They all converge on the San Francisco Bay Area twice every academic year for a retreat that takes place south of the city, just footsteps away from the Pacific Ocean. At the week-long intensives, the students meet face-to-face with many of the scholars they’ve been reading. They share meals and thoughts with these thinkers and their peers. “Students are stunned by the level of transformation that takes place at the intensives,” Littles recounts.
The online platform also allows students to balance graduate study with jobs and families. “This program appeals to a person who is comfortable with the online platform,” Littles remarks, “someone who likes the freedom to log on at 3 am to do their course work.” But that freedom requires motivation and focus on the part of the students.
The online format also allows for a different kind of education. “Our students are looking for a holistic education, one that encompasses learning on multiple levels,” Littles adds. Students can use a variety of materials to demonstrate their ideas, from visual media, to YouTube videos, to writing. Transformative Leadership also prepares students for the more traditional sort of academic publication—in scholarly journals.
The culmination of each student’s work is a capstone project, one that draws on the student’s own passions. A student who finished her MA this year, Sophie Herting, did her capstone project on e-waste (electronic debris) and the environment. Her project involved founding a company, E-Waste International, to increase awareness and to provide assistance to companies that want to implement a plan to address the impact of electronic waste. Hertung received a great deal of media exposure for her project, partly due to an appearance on “7 Live,” an afternoon talk show on ABC 7 TV in San Francisco.
Because CIIS also offers an online PhD in Transformative Studies, the MA in Transformative Leadership provides a possible smooth transition to a related doctoral program. “The PhD and the master’s retreat are at the same time and in the same location,” Littles notes. “The MA students have the opportunity to eat dinner with the doctoral students, to find out what they’re working on, and to realize that they might also be able to complete a doctorate at CIIS, if they choose to do so.”
Littles emphasizes that the course work in the MA in Transformative Leadership involves both creativity and personal change. “The process of discovering the leader within can be a transformative experience,” she says.