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“Of courage undaunted, possessing a firmness and perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction, ... honest, disinterested, liberal, of sound understanding and a fidelity to truth so scrupulous that whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves…”

Thomas Jefferson describing Meriwether Lewis in a letter to Paul Allen, 1813


Shortly after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Thomas Jefferson was faced with the decision of who to trust to lead the expedition westward.  He chose Captain Meriwether Lewis, a native of Albemarle County and one of his personal aides.  Lewis was just 29 years old.  Along with his close friend William Clark, Lewis led a resoundingly successful transcontinental expedition,  losing only one member of his crew to appendicitis.  The Expedition – and its leadership – was widely praised as a crowning achievement of Jefferson’s presidency.


In founding the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson envisioned a new kind of university, one dedicated to educating leaders in practical affairs and public service rather than for professions in the classroom and pulpit exclusively.  The Lewis Institute aims to develop young leaders like Meriwether Lewis, equipping students with the tools they need for effective leadership both on the University’s Grounds and beyond.


The Meriwether Lewis Institute for Citizen Leadership at the University of Virginia is a multi-year fellowship that prepares students for a lifetime of leadership at the University and beyond.  The Institute brings together a diverse group of U.Va. students for a 2.5-year immersive leadership experience.  Each cohort of Lewis Fellows is comprised of 30 students selected in the fall of their second year at the University.  The program has three key elements:


Participants are selected for the program in the fall semester of their 2nd year and begin by enrolling in a course in the Architecture School called "Foundations in Design Thinking" in the spring semester.  In preparation for their project-based summer program, this three-credit course will focus on complex design challenges with the goal of generating relevant proposals that benefit the common good. Design thinking approaches will be used to leverage innovative scenarios from novel perspectives to frame new interdisciplinary relationships and design strategies. Design principles and iterative applications will frame project-based exercises and involve students from across the University. The course will be taught by Elgin Cleckley, a professor in the Architecture School with appointments in both the Curry School of Education and School of Nursing.

In the summer between their 2nd and 3rd years, the Fellows stay in Charlottesville for a five week program where they learn various leadership skills (covering topics like public speaking, budgeting, presentation skills, and interpersonal dynamics). Experts from across the University and real-world leaders from various sectors lead workshops and share their perspectives with the Fellows. The Fellows also have the opportunity to meet with Deans and other leaders from across the University to discuss challenges the University faces and how student leaders can help. The fellows work on a group project throughout the five week program, presenting their work to a diverse group of University stakeholders in the final week.   All costs of the summer program are covered for the students, including room, program costs, and a stipend for completion.

The third part of the program, happening in the students’ 3rd and 4th years, offers the Fellows the opportunity to apply what they've learned to key University issues. Lewis Fellows participate in independent and small group projects aimed at improving the University which they began developing over the course of the summer program and flesh out with the help of assigned University mentors over the course of their 3rd year.  The cohort will reunite for a "Leadership in Practice" seminar in the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy in the spring of their 3rd year and for ongoing enrichment events though their 4th year, including sessions with guest speakers and faculty, a fourth year retreat, and University mentorships.

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