Jepson at 30: Looking back and moving forward

December 20, 2022

UNIVERSITY NEWS

At the University of Richmond’s 1987 commencement, alumnus Robert S. Jepson Jr., and his wife, Alice Andrews Jepson, offered the University a $20 million challenge gift to create a leadership studies program and an academic building to house it.

The University rose to the challenge. The Jepsons’ vision became a reality when a crowd of 3,000 gathered in front of the new, towering Jepson Hall on Sept. 9, 1992, to celebrate the inauguration of the nation’s first undergraduate school of leadership studies.

In his keynote remarks, retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf emphasized the school’s role in developing leaders of strong character. “We are going to have the leadership that we need going into the 21st century because of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies.”

Much has changed in the 30 years since that inauguration, but the school’s commitment to teaching the value of ethical, effective leadership remains constant. That commitment is built on a foundation of faculty scholarship, community engagement, and student and alumni outcomes, addressing what Dean Sandra Peart refers to as “the universal need for good leadership.”

When designing the curriculum, the four founding faculty members brought their individual disciplines to bear, an approach founding faculty member Joanne Ciulla described as “liberal arts with a point.” Today, the 17 Jepson faculty members educate students through their 11 disciplines — anthropology, economics, education, English literature, history, law, philosophy, political science, psychology, religious history, and sociology.  

Innovation as a hallmark

In its early years, the school pioneered service-learning at Richmond. Other programs aimed at enhancing student learning have followed, including an honors track in leadership studies for students interested in research, a comparative U.K.-U.S. law study-abroad program through Jepson at Cambridge, and the Science Leadership Scholars Program that prepares future scientists for leadership roles.

Most recently, the Jepson Scholars Program provides up to four full scholarships yearly to graduating Jepson seniors to pursue one-year master’s programs. There have been eight Jepson Scholars to date, and the school hopes to expand the program.  

Through signature programs — the Leader-in-Residence Program, the Jepson Leadership Forum, and the Gary L. McDowell Institute  — the school extends its reach beyond campus, inviting the general public and scholars and experts from other institutions to explore leadership concepts. During its three decades, the school has hosted many distinguished leaders, including former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, film director Spike Lee, former U.S. Sens. Robert Dole and George McGovern, and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.  

On the rise

In May 1994, the school’s inaugural class of 38 students graduated. By comparison, the Jepson Class of 2025 numbers 102. Alumni, now almost 1,900 strong, are leaders in the corporate, government, and nonprofit sectors in the United States and abroad.

While lauding the school’s success at the 30th anniversary celebration earlier this semester, Jepson exhorted the community to continue innovating to ensure the school remains the nation’s premiere institution of leadership studies.

“In our lives, all of us look to do something so special and so different that it grabs the attention and admiration of the world and makes it a better place,” Jepson said. “In the creation of our school, we have together added much to the world of higher education.”