Barry McNamara  |   Published January 10, 2019

Helping Women Become Leaders

Alumna Kristen Wyse Wagner plays key role with Alpha Xi Delta’s award-winning national leadership program.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Kristen Wyse Wagner ’11 loved every minute of her Alpha Xi Delta experience at Monmouth College.

KRISTEN WYSE WAGNER: ?Alpha Xi Delta helped me become who I am and become a leader. That's why I'... KRISTEN WYSE WAGNER: “Alpha Xi Delta helped me become who I am and become a leader. That's why I'm so grateful to be working for them now and really giving back to the organization.”Today, she serves the next generation of Alpha Xis in her role as manager of educational initiatives for the national women’s fraternity, headquartered in Indianapolis.

Wagner recently helped Alpha Xi Delta receive a national award from the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, which honored the women’s fraternity for its leadership education program, The Founders’ Academy.

The Founders’ Academy was designed for chapter presidents and emerging leaders. Held biennially in even years, the four-day academy alternates with Alpha Xi Delta’s national convention, which is held in odd years.

Wagner, who is in her fourth year with the women’s fraternity, was not yet on staff for the first academy in 2014, but she has since taken it under her wing, leading the 2016 and 2018 programs.

“It’s really my baby,” Wagner said from her home in Madison, Wis., where she works remotely. “I’m very proud of the program. We see a lot more women who have been part of the academy applying for leadership positions. And their positive experiences come back around in more ways than that.”

Meeting Alpha Xi Delta’s goals

Wagner said a “hefty amount of curriculum” is part of The Founders’ Academy, which strives to meet Alpha Xi Delta’s vision of inspiring women to realize their potential. Participants are challenged to use their individual strengths based on Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment to honor AXD’s ritual, heritage and founders while leading their chapter to success.

“Academy attendees pledge to implement goals, and we check in every three months to see how they’re doing with those,” said Wagner. “The theme changes for every academy, and the curriculum changes with it to align with needs that our chapters are facing.”

Karen Ogorzalek, Monmouth’s associate dean of students, was a facilitator at last summer’s academy. She said the program does a great job connecting with participants.

“All the sessions were so interactive, it was nearly impossible not to get involved,” said Ogorzalek. “The whole weekend instilled an enormous sense of pride in Alpha Xi. It was rewarding for me to meet inspiring collegiate women and alumnae from Alpha Xi.”

Although not a required for Alpha Xi Delta members, last summer’s academy drew 134 members.

“It’s a pretty meaningful experience for them,” said Wagner.

Becoming a leader

That also describes Wagner’s time as a student at Monmouth College and as an active member of Alpha Xi Delta. As a freshman, she wasn’t interested in participating in Greek life. Even after joining the women’s fraternity, she had no designs on leadership positions.

“I joined as a sophomore,” she said. “I just wanted to be a part of it and not lead, but other people saw leadership capabilities in me.”

Eventually, Wagner served as president of Monmouth’s chapter.

“Alpha Xi Delta helped me become who I am and become a leader,” she said. “That’s why I’m so grateful to be working for them now and really giving back to the organization.”

Following graduation, Wagner earned a master’s degree in college student personnel from Western Illinois University. She then worked three years at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, focusing on fraternity and sorority life among other student activities, before taking her current position.

In addition to The Founders’ Academy, Wagner is involved with Inspire, Alpha Xi Delta’s new membership development program. Chapters can choose from more than 40 programs to meet the intellectual, professional and personal growth needs of their members.

“I love the aspect that my job has given me such a strong connection to Alpha Xi Delta and provides tools that current members can use,” she said.

Wagner also feels a strong connection to Monmouth College. The history and classics major stays in touch with former professors and staff members, including Ogorzalek and Alpha Xi Delta adviser Ronda Willhardt ’85.

As a high school student, Wagner visited Monmouth twice and said “it felt like home.”

“The people were so kind and the campus is beautiful,” she said. “I grew up on a farm in a small town, and I didn’t want to feel like a number in college. I really felt like I mattered at Monmouth. I’d do it all over again if I could.”

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