Bauers establish universitywide leaders academy

Innovative initiative will help all students explore their purpose and create positive change

By University Marketing & Communications | March 21, 2024

In defining leadership, Washington University alumnus George Bauer cites a quote often attributed to President John Quincy Adams: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”

Portrait of George and Carol Bauer
With their latest gift, George and Carol Bauer aim to help Washington University students understand and cultivate leadership and purpose in their lives. (Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr./Washington University)

To support this view of leadership, Bauer and his wife, Carol, of New Canaan, Connecticut, have made a $20 million pledge to establish and endow the George and Carol Bauer Leaders Academy, an innovative new initiative that places purposeful, character-driven leadership development at the center of the WashU experience for all students. 

The academy will support research and oversee student leadership programs across schools and co-curricular programs, imbuing them with best practices in leadership development and personal character formation.

“We have a bold goal to become the nation’s premier university for developing leaders of character and conviction,” says Chancellor Andrew D. Martin. “Students who participate in Bauer Leaders Academy programs will hone their leadership capabilities, explore their purpose, and learn how to lead in service of the greater good. Through its programs, curricular enhancements, training, and research, the academy will catalyze our mission to graduate changemakers prepared to better society.” 

While many U.S. colleges and universities have leadership centers, the Bauer Leaders Academy will be the first such program to engage every undergraduate student, says Kurt Dirks, senior advisor to the chancellor for leadership and the Bank of America Professor of Leadership at Olin Business School. 

“We want all students to understand and cultivate leadership and purpose in their lives,” Dirks says. “This reflects a redefinition of leadership that is vital for society today. We believe every person has a role to play in building a better world, and we are making that a pillar of a Washington University education.”

Through the Bauer Leaders Academy, leadership education will be woven into both the curriculum and campus life. Orientation and first-year coursework, including “Bearprints for Success,” the Division of Student Affairs’ one-credit course about the college transition, will feature modules and exercises focused on purpose, values, and leadership. In addition, the Bauer Leadership Faculty Incubator Grants program will support leadership research and provide funding to develop new courses and educational content that helps students explore leadership and related concepts and how these principles can guide their lives and careers.

Make Way for WashU students

Your participation in Make Way: Our Student Initiative will help Washington University build financial resources for scholarships and fellowships and provide a best-in-class experience for all students, regardless of their background.

The academy also will create programs that enable students to grow as leaders while they engage in experiences associated with their personal interests. “There are so many spaces to have an impact as an informal leader — in your community, in your family, in your church or on a team,” Dirks says.

A program for varsity athletes will offer workshops and coaching to help participants identify personal and team goals and learn strategies to inspire teammates and lead difficult conversations. Another initiative recently funded by Wayne Lu, BSBA ’96, of Hong Kong will support a leadership program for international students. And Student Union, WashU’s student government, has committed $2 million to endow an award for exceptional student leaders.

Anna Gonzalez, vice chancellor for student affairs, says the Bauers’ gift will play a key role in helping the Division of Student Affairs fulfill its mission to create a best-in-class student experience.

“I have had the great fortune of spending time with Carol and George Bauer during the past two years, talking about our incredible students and their potential as future leaders,” Gonzalez says. “They have taken the time to meet with our students and listen to their stories and aspirations. Their generosity sets in motion an innovative approach to how we develop generations of future leaders who will positively impact their communities.”

Leading by example

Among their previous gifts to WashU, the Bauers have contributed more than $15 million for values-based leadership initiatives. Their investments include endowments for the George and Carol Bauer Professorship in Organizational Ethics and Governance at Olin Business School; the George and Carol Bauer Leadership Center at the business school; and an enhanced four-year leadership-development experience for Danforth Scholars.

Their latest pledge for the Bauer Leaders Academy — the largest gift to date in support of the student experience through Make Way: Our Student Initiative — builds on the impact of their philanthropy by providing a foundation for universitywide leadership programming. The couple hopes their gift will inspire others to step forward with additional support.

“There’s no doubt that we need more good leaders in our world right now,” says Carol Bauer, a hospital chaplain who was the first woman elected president of the board of Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, Connecticut. “The field is ripe for harvest. We believe that WashU is the best place to nurture the character and skills young people must have to serve each other and society, and we hope other like-minded people will join us.”

Programs offered through the Bauer Leaders Academy, including those funded by future donors, will reinforce the idea that leadership can be developed in every person, something George Bauer learned later in life.

“If you would have talked about leadership to me when I was an incoming student at WashU, I would have thought about the president of the United States or the chancellor of the university,” says Bauer, CEO of investment banking and consulting firm GPB Group Ltd. and a former IBM executive. “I would not have thought that a leader is a person who deals with a group of people in a collaborative way to accomplish an objective. When you start to think about leadership in those terms, you ask yourself, ‘What kind of a leader would I be in that situation? What skills can I contribute to solving that problem?’”

Those words resonate with sophomore Bella Gomez who, as a Danforth Scholar, participated in a first-year seminar on purpose funded by the Bauers. The experience helped her identify her talents as a writer and her interest in public health. She has leveraged that knowledge to become a volunteer grant writer. 

“I came here with some misconceptions about leadership — that it’s about being the loudest person in the room or that it’s a talent you either have or don’t,” says Gomez, who is studying Latin American studies and global studies in Arts & Sciences. “It’s really about developing the skills you already possess. Now that I know where my skills lie and what areas I need to improve on, I seek out more opportunities on and off campus because I now know what I have to bring to the table.”

Carol Bauer with Danforth Scholars Program administrators and participants
Carol Bauer, center, visited with Danforth Scholars Program administrators and participants during a luncheon and tea at the Danforth University Center in February. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)