For up-to-the-minute information on the University of Iowa’s response to the Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, please visit the Campus Coronavirus Updates website.

AJ King & Stephanie Hesse

Area of Study:

Stephanie – Communication Studies, Certificates in Event Planning and Fundraising and Philanthropy Communication

AJ – Double majoring in Social Work and Psychology


Stephanie – Bettendorf, IA

AJ – Marion, IA

Area of involvement with Leadership & Service Programs:


Describe your role in that program:

As On-Site Coordinators, we will work closely with the faculty and staff during the LeaderShape retreat to ensure the program runs as smoothly as possible. We help organize supplies and parts of the program schedule to make the curriculum as successful and engaging as it can be. We also serve as the point of contact for participants in the program – a person they can trust and talk to throughout the retreat, and someone they can hopefully look up to.

What has been your favorite memory, experience, or lessons learned?


This program has played such a substantial part in my life over the past 10 months so it is really hard to narrow it down to just one thing. If I had to choose one though, I would have to say the quality of relationships I have gained from this experience is towards the top. Many of my closest friends are people that I met through the Institute and I couldn’t be more grateful to have them in my life.  They inspire me to be a better version of myself and push me to recognize my greatest potential.


My favorite memory from LeaderShape was going out hiking with some of the participants, building a snowman/monster, and having a huge snowball fight together! It’s a little silly, but it’s a really special memory to me, since I couldn’t remember the last time I had a large-scale snowball fight until that moment. That memory also emphasizes the value of community and how LeaderShape fosters friendships; it’s remarkable how quickly genuine, meaningful friendships bloom during a participant’s time at LeaderShape.

How did you get involved, and what has motivated you to stick around?


I originally applied for the program because a couple people from my service fraternity had participated in previous years. I didn’t really know much about it when applying but it seemed like a great opportunity, so I went for it. I originally got waitlisted but found out three days before the program started that I was able to attend.  On Day 3 of the program, I remember sitting on the couch talking to one of our On-Sites, Christian, about how to get further involved with the program. I came out of the week inspired and knew that I wanted to apply to be an On-Site Coordinator for the next year. I think my biggest motivation to stay involved with LeaderShape is that I wholeheartedly believe in the Institute, what it stands for, and how much of an impact it can make on others.


I got involved with LeaderShape after being referred to the program from another leadership retreat I had attended previously, MyIOWA. I had a wonderful, impactful experience at MyIOWA, and was encouraged to apply to LeaderShape – everything just kind of snowballed from there! I attended LeaderShape in January 2018. Watching myself grow as not only a leader, but as an individual, motivated me to continue on with the program as an On-Site Coordinator for the January 2019 LeaderShape session. I have had the pleasure to see the friends I made at LeaderShape succeed in their organizations and aspirations, and for many of them, I have seen the leagues of growth they’ve made since graduating from the program. It’s so amazing! I want to inspire the next group of student leaders at Iowa through LeaderShape, because I truly believe the institute is that transformative. 

How has, or how will LeaderShape influence your future goals?


LeaderShape has given me so much confidence and has allowed me to believe in myself in everything I do. I feel like I have the necessary tools to do anything that gets thrown my way.


If you talked with me maybe a year or two ago, I was rather timid and had a difficult time in being the first one to reach out to get help or resources. I am so much more willing to make mistakes, roll with the punches, learn from the experience, and try again. These skills led me to pursue several student leadership opportunities on campus, which in turn, made me realize how much I loved being part of a university campus and connecting with university student and staff.

Discovering I had a love for higher education really pushed me to change my future goals just over the last year. I am now aspiring to become a professor in social work. While a lot of factors went into making this decision, it’s undeniable that LeaderShape helped me build the confidence in myself to even consider that career as an option. 

Why should others get involved with this program?


Others should get involved with this program because it is honestly life changing. I learned so much about myself and others through my experience and I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I not attended the Institute.


Participating in LeaderShape is indescribable; it’s so empowering, transformative, and inspiring. Never have I been so challenged to explore my value, strengths, and vision as much as I was during the program. Meeting other leaders from different backgrounds and student organizations gave me so many opportunities to listen to people’s personal stories, which really changed my worldview and how I viewed the important role leadership skills have in our students’ lives. 

LeaderShape is all about making a journey, and I duly believe that students who attend the program come back to campus as not only better leaders, but better people.

Do you have any wise words of advice for students taking part in the upcoming Leadershape retreat?

Keep an open mind! Be ready to learn and know that it is okay to be vulnerable.

Be open to meeting people you’ve never met before, be open to making friends, be open to making mistakes, and most importantly, be open to be yourself. I think that being vulnerable is a life skill that is often overlooked; the more open you are to being vulnerable and open to those around you, the more you will take away and learn from LeaderShape.