Community Leadership at Aquinas College
  • students working in classroom

    Community Leadership

Why Study Community Leadership?

The Community Leadership major and minor at Aquinas College are interdisciplinary academic programs that encourage students to become more deeply engaged in the community and consider careers that require social problem solving. The major and minor each require extensive practice in public and non-profit organizations that address suffering, injustice and inequality. This scaffolded, experiential learning program includes interdisciplinary perspectives and coursework in social justice, sustainability, basic human needs, and on a variety of community sectors. The goal of the program is to support student learning so that students develop an understanding of the complexity of social problems and gain the operational and analytical skills needed to create social change for the public good.

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will develop a deeper understanding of their role and responsibility as community members by studying community strengths, assets, problems, and needs.
  • Students will become effective, active participants in the communities they are a part of by discussing, visiting, and working with specific community sectors (e.g., healthcare, government, education, non-profits) emphasizing social justice (redistributing resources to those in need and ending oppression and domination in all institutions), sustainability (improving the environment, equity, and economy) and basic human needs (access to food, clothing, shelter, education, employment, healthcare, transportation, and an unpolluted environment).
  • Students will meet, network with, and be mentored by several community members and community leaders who work towards social justice using multiple methods (e.g., direct action, legislative, social entrepreneurship, policy, social advocacy, activism, mutual aid, direct service, social work).

Unique at Aquinas and unique in the country: Our program is one of only a few in the U.S. where you can earn a bachelor’s degree with a community leadership major.


The program was developed by former Grand Rapids’ Mayor George Heartwell, and community activist Mike Williams in 1999 to encourage leadership for the public good.


Students engage with Grand Rapids leaders and organizations to address issues of social injustice, including poverty, homelessness, food scarcity, human trafficking, and environmental injustice.


Majors and minors complete at least 200 hours of intensive field experience in the community.


The Community Leadership program connects students to local, regional, and global community projects with big impacts, like ArtPrize, the Grand River Clean Up, and Voters Not Politicians for example.


Graduates of the community leadership program are now leaders at more than 15 Grand Rapids non-profit organizations where they mentor current students.


Dr. Michael Lorr, program director, completed research on skateboarding and punk rock subcultures, sustainable development, and social movements.


Students in Community Leadership learn the foundational skills for entering careers in governmental and non-profit administration, social work, direct service, mutual aid, and social activism.


Community leadership majors learn skills for the field and future leadership roles, including grant writing, accounting for non-profits, and completing participatory action research and assessment methods.


Community leadership cultivates interdisciplinary critical thought, including multiple perspectives on
community, leadership, social justice and social entrepreneurship.

photo of Nathan Schall
I chose the Community Leadership program because of its ardent effort to make a positive difference in the community while adhering to principles of Catholic Social Teaching. Because of the program's involvement with the surrounding community, I was challenged to not only address day-to-day concerns but also to question and challenge systemic issues.
Nathan Schall '16, Pursuing Masters Degree in Urban and Regional Planning at Ball State University